Language Learning and the False Self

In the the first few months of learning a language cross culturally even a small trip to the grocery store can become a game of “how much stress will I have to endure this trip?”

One day as I was finishing putting all my groceries on the conveyor belt, the person ahead of me had just finished. The checkout lady turned to me.

“Salve, – (Insert a whole slew of Italian words in rapid succession here) – Ce l’hai?”

“Ce l’hai?!? Wait, what did you say?…Oh shoot, she’s staring at me…um…let’s see…’ce l’hai’…’ce l’hai’…oh wait…that means, ‘do you have it?’ I think so…shoot…wait, have what? Man that line’s getting long…hold on…um….’Si.’

“Ok.” (the cashier holds out her hand waiting for me to put something in said hand).

“Shoot…I don’t think I’m supposed to give her my credit card now…but…ok…here it goes.” (Places said credit card in hand).

(A look of confusion mixed with indignity appears on her face as she places my card on the counter and begins to scan my groceries.)

“I think she was asking about something else.”

Language learning whilst living cross culturally is one of the most frustratingly difficult and taxing things we’ve ever done. There have been few spaces or seasons in life that have forced us to face fear, confusion, and uncertainty with such laser focused precision. Language learning in a different culture has a way of pinpointing every. single. insecurity. that you hold in your heart and systematically poke and prod them relentlessly.

Situations like this one in the grocery store regularly force us to make decisions. When learning language cross culturally, one is regularly faced with answering the question of what’s more important: to pretend I understood something that was said to me so as to not look like an idiot or, to be honest and just admit I missed what was said and don’t fully understand?

Read: pretend so as not to look stupid or be honest and look stupid?

The irony is that pretending to be something we are not in order to avoid fear actually often leads to more embarrassment and doubles down on creating fear in us. When we choose to function from a place of falsehood we are functioning from a place of fear. Often this is a result of not being centered. When we forget who we are and whose we are, we easily shift and function from a false understanding of ourselves. When we live out of our false self we fear that our lack of a true center for our identity will be revealed and that weakness will be exploited by others.

Our false self will almost always try to compensate by finding our identity in performance – “I am what I do.”

In language learning our false self says:
“If I can just speak better, then I’ll be good to go!”
“Don’t let them know you don’t understand, they’ll think you’re dumb.”
“Fake it till you make it.”
“If they at least think I understand, then they’ll think I’m really doing well at learning language and will like me more.”

In language learning it’s easy to think that because we can’t speak well we won’t be valued. If our false self is rooted in value, then our ability to perform (or speak) is directly related to our value. Every time I fail to understand or articulate myself, I’ve failed. To the extent our false self guides our life, we fear others. Life with others is a constant threat to our false self. Others may see through or expose our facades of competence, confidence and control. Others may discover and disclose that we are a person without a firm center. And so we get stuck. If everything and everyone is a threat to my value then I might as well just stay inside and never leave my house.

Anytime we try to root our identity in anything other than God we’ll find ourselves trying to fearfully protect an identity that crumbles at the weight of its insufficiency. In language learning, and in reality, most things – when I try to uphold an image that I’ve created for myself I will undoubtedly, out of fear of losing it, do whatever I can to keep that image afloat. We are learning what it looks like each day to let go of the images of perfection and achievement and trust that we are valuable because of who we are in Christ and not our ability to speak well.

Our identity must be centered in Christ. Mulholland writes in his book ‘The Deeper Journey:’ “The life hidden with Christ in God is one of such growing union with God in love that God’s presence becomes the context of our daily life, God’s purposes become the matrix of our activities, and the values of God’s kingdom shape our life and relationships; God’s living presence becomes the ground of our identity, the source of our meaning, the seat of our value and the center of our purpose.”

We have to daily choose to be honest with ourselves and with others with where we are at in the process of learning the language and trust that our value comes from Christ and is enough to sustain us even if we look like idiots, fail to understand something, or say the wrong thing at the wrong time.

It’s easy to say our identity is found in Christ and not in our ability. But each day we are given countless opportunities to actually live that out by making choices that allow us to live in freedom from the need to uphold something that we are not. It’s in the little moments like the grocery store interaction where in a split second I can choose to live freely or hide. Do I trust that I’ll be ok even if I admit I don’t know something or apologize because I can’t say something correctly?

When I’m confident in who I am, I don’t have to pretend to be something I am not, I can be honest with where I am at in the process and relax; trusting I’ll get it…eventually. The lady at the checkout counter becomes a lot less scary when I don’t need her to assign me value.

These days when I’m asked if “ce l’hai?” I can politely just tell the checkout lady the truth…”L’ho dimenticato” (I forgot it.)

5 Lessons I Learned in the Desert

5 Lessons I Learned in the Desert

God actually brings people through the desert. On purpose. Because He loves them.

Let that sit for a bit.

The desert.

You know, that place where you’re all alone. That place where there’s absolutely nothing around for miles. That place where wild animals are looking for their next meal. That place where your deepest fears and insecurities seep up from the depths of your soul because you’re left alone with them.

That place where no matter what you do, you don’t feel God’s presence and nothing turns out the way you thought it would. That place where you’ve done everything you’ve been told to do in the past: pray, read your Bible, listen to hymns about God, go to church and it just doesn’t work.

That place is where I’ve found myself wandering throughout this past year. To say that it’s been exhausting, emotional, and just plain hard would be an understatement.

And yet, being led into the desert was God’s purposeful and loving path for me to be formed in the ways of Jesus. And through it, I’ve learned a lot.

1) God cares more about my heart than He does about the results of my “ministry”

God used the desert to show me the places in my life where I didn’t love Him. He began to strip away any semblance of productivity and success. God made it clear: more than the number of people I lead to Jesus, more than the leaders I’ve trained and developed, more than the partnerships I’ve forged, He cares about my heart being surrendered to Him.

2) Often times I live like I’m a Christian Moralist

When I didn’t see the results and “fruit” of all my hard work I felt guilty and shameful. In order to cover those feelings up, I worked harder. But what God began to show me was that it’s not my job to take away guilty and shame. That’s Jesus’ job. That’s why He died. God began to show me what was in my heart. Spiritual pride. “I can do it myself.” Instead God pointed me to a place of love and humility; the way of Jesus.

3) You can’t read and pray your way out of the desert

Scripture is full of verses that talk about “waiting on the Lord.” We often think that that the longer we’ve been walking with Jesus, the more “experiences” we’d have with Him. We’re often told that we’re supposed to “feel” God’s presence all the time. And so it’s confusing, we often think that the more character/maturity we have in Christ, the deeper the experience of God we should have. When we stop having the “feeling,” often our response is to go back to what we know. “But, I’ve read my Bible, I’ve prayed, I’ve gone to church…why does God still seem so distant?” What I began to understand is that God’s desire is to take us to real places of growth. Thats the purpose of the desert, to expose one’s heart. God strips us of what’s worked before to draw us into deeper relationship with Him. God brings us to places where all we can do is pull up a chair and sit down while we wait for Him to form us, grow us, and lead us out of the desert.

4) God desires for us to be vulnerable with Him

I was raised as a good Baptist.  I could never imagine telling God I was angry at Him. I mean, I probably told God I didn’t like something once or twice, but never dared to express my anger towards Him for putting me in a specific situation. And yet, this past year I’ve spent more time reading Psalms and Lamentations than ever before. Let’s be very clear: David and the writer of Lamentations were extremely honest with how they felt about their subsequent situations. They held nothing back. As I began to share the anger, frustration, sadness, and brokenness that was in the depths of my heart, I in turn experienced the invitation of God to draw near to Him in love and comfort. He loved me despite the smorgasbord of genuinely negative feelings I had towards Him. Allowing yourself to feel emotions in the midst of your situations and offering them up to God who in turn responds with love is a recipe for heart change. And that’s what began to happen.

5) We need community to point us to Jesus when we can’t find the way ourselves

The desert is disorienting, exhausting, and grueling. When you’re in the middle of the desert it’s hard to tell which way is up. I’m grateful that in the middle of one the hardest seasons of my life, God graciously surrounded me with people who knew which way was up. When I couldn’t hear God’s voice, they listened on my behalf. When I couldn’t “feel” God’s love for me, they showed me the love of God. When I couldn’t see God’s faithfulness they pointed out God’s gracious provision. They prayed faithfully for me, listened intently to the cries of my heart, and sat with me when I needed friendship and comfort. They pointed me to Jesus when I couldn’t find my way through the desert. A community that reflects the person and work of Jesus transforms neighborhoods and lives. That’s why community is so important.

 

Truth and Love

These past couple of months have been pretty crazy around here. We’ve seen a lot of suffering, brokenness, and devastation in the lives of those around us. Fires have destroyed homes and left many to start over completely. Some have lost loved ones; babies, relatives, friends, all without any warning or reason. Others have been hit with financial burdens that seem almost too big to overcome. Addictions have ruined marriages and families. All of these are vivid reminders that things aren’t as they were intended to be. 
If you grew up in the church at all – upon one of these tragedies extending to your immediate family you’ve most likely been inundated with promise upon promise about how God will take care of you, how He’s always there with you, or even how He has a plan for your life even in the midst of this tragedy. When something in someone’s life begins to go wrong these promises come flying out of mouths faster than clay pigeons out of a trap. We drop “promise bombs” all over the pain, hoping to bring comfort to the afflicted and hope to the suffering. 
When someone dies; Tell them it’s part of God’s plan, Jeremiah 29:11 – For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Then follow it up with, “I’m praying for you.”
When someone loses their job; tell them about the birds, Matthew 6:26 – “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” Then follow it up with, “I’m praying for you.”
When someone is struggling with just about anything else; tell them God’s always with them, Hebrews 13:5b – “…“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Then follow it up with, “I’m praying for you.”
I want to first acknowledge the truth and complete veracity of Scripture. I believe that these passages (though most often taken terribly out of context) are completely true and point us to the reliability, faithfulness and deep love our Father has for us.

With that being said, if you’ve been on the receiving end of any of those “promise bombs” you know that in the midst of pain, they often times ring hauntingly hollow. I believe people genuinely want to say something that’ll help. Most of us simply don’t know what to say. But we feel obliged to say something to fill that awkward void that so often surrounds the pain. But I’d argue, saying something along the lines of the aforementioned is about as helpful as a solitary box fan in the middle of a house with no AC in the middle of a heatwave (useless – not that I speak from experience or anything).
Often we think that pointing people back to the truths of Scripture in the midst of devastation and brokenness is helpful. And, in most ways, it absolutely is. The problem arises when we point back to truth and it’s devoid of any real, tangible love. When that happens, our words often serve more as a catharsis for our own selves than actually providing any semblance of encouragement for those in a place of hurt. And when we speak truth apart from real tangible love we are encapsulating well what Warren Wiersbe says, “Truth without love is brutality, and love without truth is hypocrisy.” The two must go together.

You see, rarely can a response make something better; what makes something better is a connection, a relationship. The reason I think that so many times our little words of encouragement ring so hollow is because they come from a place detached from connection and relationship. It’s so much easier for us to simply speak truth from a place of “having it all together” than to step into the hurt with those dealing with it. Walking with people through the hurt is a lot harder than simply offering up a little anecdote. It takes work, it takes risk, it takes being inconvenienced – it takes love.

Jesus was a great example of this, he stepped into those places of pain, walked through it alongside of those suffering. I love John 11, it paints this beautiful picture of death, suffering, and Jesus entering into the pain that was felt by Mary and Martha in the wake of their brother’s death. He felt it with them. He didn’t simply say, “At least you still have your sister,” or “Don’t worry, I work everything out for the good of those who believe in me…” No, he listened, he entered into their pain, and loved them well in it and through it. Jesus’ response was one rooted in connection and relationship.

As we walk with our neighbors, our friends, our family, we are continually reminded at just how hard it is to really love them well and contend for them as Jesus did. But I believe that’s what we’re called to do. Especially as we walk through difficulties and tragedies with them. May our first response to tragedy be one of love, engagement, and walking with those who hurt. It’s when we do that well, that our words of truth have much more power. Truth and love must always go together.