“And that is good news!” I proclaimed exultantly in Croatian. The others around the table stared at me, baffled, and then began laughing. I had felt (over)confident that I accurately understood my friend’s description of God’s love—except I failed to comprehend the last two sentences. But how important could two sentences be when I followed most of the rest?
“What is good news? pfgjlske dijfjsl dkjilljj alskjfjek?” my friend asked me, repeating the same last sentence that I still could not understand. I panicked, lost my confidence, and feebly uttered an explanation of what I meant. Unfortunately, since I was now flustered, my intended, “It’s good news that God loves us, ” came out as, “God to our love.” I saw the Roma couple we were talking to subtly look at each other, and the woman slightly raised her eyebrows to her husband and wait….was that an eye roll? Since I don’t know the Roma culture very well, I wasn’t sure how to interpret those non-verbals. But even so, I felt a flush of shame and embarrassment, frustration at my inability to express myself, and a subtle flash of anger that I again felt…well…stupid in front of people.
Most of the time I can laugh at myself, along with other people, at the sometimes ridiculous things I say in my attempts to communicate. But sometimes I am tired, and I want to feel adequate, to feel that somehow I am in charge, proficient, and important. Partially at the root of this, I’ll admit, is a desire to impress people with my competence and rapid language acquisition.
Not a particularly attractive motivation, but the best cure to root out such a hollow desire is to continue on this laborious, often frustrating path of language learning. I have accepted that I am merely an average language learner. I cannot remember a word or phrase when I hear it the first time but have to write everything down and apply copious amounts of memorization and practice. This involves consistently using my four-year-old communication skills, to be willing to laugh at myself, accept my weaknesses, and allow other people to exercise compassion and patience toward me.
I have said before that I believe immersing oneself in another culture is a kind of spiritual discipline. It requires a consistent and intentional posture of learning and listening, a humble acceptance of your position of weakness and dependence, and a willingness to confront your own character flaws that often bare their unsightly faces when your cultural preferences rub against another’s.
But this place of weakness allows encounter with Christ in new and sometimes surprising ways. And certainly, as I learn and observe new cultures, my amazement over God’s creativity and redemptive goodness continues to pummel me like unending ocean waves.
On this Good Friday, I am reminded that Jesus entered fully into human frailty—it was in this human weakness that he walked steadily toward the cross and it was in this weakness that the power of God defeated death. Yes, I want to feel competent and important, but entering into another culture reminds me that it is actually through my weakness that Christ’s power can work most potently—it is not about me, it is about him. Now, that is Good News!