Learning Spanish has taught me more than a new language, it’s taught me about the process of growing faith. In my 10 months living here in Madrid, I found myself in countless situations where I felt the challenges of being a foreigner in my new home. It’s kind of like being a new student at a school in the middle of the school year. Everyone’s got their system down, except you. You’re just trying to blend in, but inside you’re grasping at straws to stay afloat.
My struggle with the language left me feeling lost for words, on a daily basis. Trying to open a bank account. Negotiating a lease on our apartment. Navigating the hidden costs in our new phone bill. At one point, I found myself at the pharmacy for an hour trying to communicate that I needed to buy the right medication for my wife’s toothache. Whatever Spanish I remembered from school (and Taco Bell commercials) definitely wasn’t enough to discuss how federal regulations on the levels of Paracetemol in medicine differ in each country!
Sometimes it was easier to stay quiet than say anything at all. How easy it is to take our voice for granted, I realized. How easy it is to forget that so many people feel this way, even in their own country. And I began to hope that maybe I could give voice, and encouragement, to those who felt that way.
My frustrations in being immersed in a new world fueled my urgency to learn the language. When I first began, I signed up for the most intensive course, and figured it’d be a matter of weeks before I’d be conversational. I learned the grammar as quickly as I could, flipping ahead to the next chapters to learn the grammatical concepts even before we covered them in class. I prided myself in knowing all the verb forms, to the point that I even insisted that I move up class levels where they taught the more advanced grammar.
But here’s the thing. When I’d open my mouth, I found myself helpless to speak in coherent sentences. I’d find myself messing up the simplest grammatical concepts. Mixing up the verb endings. Forgetting how to say the very textbook phrases I thought I had mastered in my homework assignments. When I’d share in class, my teacher would interrupt me every couple words to correct me. Change that verb tense. Fix this vocabulary. Put the accent on this syllable. At first, this bothered me. I wished my teacher would just let me speak without interrupting me every couple seconds. Even if I wasn’t saying it perfectly, wasn’t it enough that I had strung enough coherent words together to get by? I hated that feeling of failure. At one point, I even asked whether I should switch down to a lower class.
It was only after weeks of staying the course that I realized that learning a language isn’t simply about “getting by.” It wasn’t about simply storing its mental concepts to memory. Or developing a false sense of confidence in my broken sentences. Learning a new language is about practicing over and over and over again. Putting myself out there, at the risk of failure, to move closer to excellence. I began to understand that my teacher corrected me out of her hope to see me improve. And as we practiced the same concepts over and over again, I found that the corrections came less and less over time. And I grew more confident in my ability to converse in Spanish. Just last week, I found breakthrough in being able to talk (and write) about what God has done in my life. I started to find my voice, all of the challenges seemed worth it. ¡Qué emoción!
As I reflect back on my stubborn journey, I see how this is the process we often follow in our faith and relationship with God. Indeed, there are hard lessons that God has taught me on this journey. Ones I thought I’d understood at the time, only to find myself falling into another pit. Even after recognizing lies from my past, I’d find myself having to keep reminding myself of truth when those thoughts creep in. After seeing how He so miraculously broke strongholds in my life just earlier, I’d find myself being discouraged by a new circumstance. After deciding to get back up, I’d face a new temptation. And even when I think I’m getting somewhere, God raises the bar and there are new lessons to be learned. New challenges to overcome.
Two years after being born again and stepping out into a journey of faith, I realize there’s no short-circuiting the process of perfecting faith. This is going to be a lifelong journey. Like learning a language, growing in faith in God isn’t meant to simply be understood mentally. It’s meant to be practiced. Over and over. And over again. Opposition in this journey is inevitable, but one thing I can hold to is this: I feel God’s love for me most intimately when I felt the most resistance, and kept going anyways. The muscles of faith only develop when I endured to practice what I believe through the moments I most wanted to give up.
And in the process we may fall, over and over again. But what a beautiful thing it is to experience the gentle correction of God in our lives. Patiently guiding us, each time we get back up. And over time, we find that the corrections come less and less, as we realize we have grown, and we have learned to walk more confidently into the unknown. And every so often we pause to look back and see how far we have come, and whisper a little prayer, “¡Gracias Señor Jesus!”
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race set out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2a