Comfortable with Confusion

The Blog, Uncategorized

Even though I’ve lived in Spain for a year, there are still times that I do not understand what is happening around me. This may surprise you if you have never lived in a foreign country. While I’ve learned a lot over the past year, there is still much more that I do not know. It’s possible, as a foreigner, there may be things that I will never know or understand.

The other day I was listening to someone speaking in Spanish, and I realized that at some point she started using words unfamiliar to me and I had stopped understanding her. It was a simple passing observation.

I have no idea what she’s talking about,” I thought.

I didn’t dwell on this more than a moment because my next realization was that it didn’t bother me. At some point, I have become accustomed to being confused. I’m used to not understanding. It’s a normal part of life now.

When I arrived, not knowing made me uncomfortable. I asked so many questions. My goal was to learn as fast as possible and have the same level of understanding as in my passport country. It wasn’t only the language that gave me anxiety. The culture and customs were sometimes just as difficult.

But I’ve relaxed a little since then. Of course it’s still important to continue learning. I will never give that up. The difference is that I’m no longer afraid of the confusion. It’s part of the process.

This reminds me of times when other things happen that we don’t understand and we ask God, “What are you doing?” Sometimes it feels like God is speaking another language. His culture and customs are different from ours. We wonder what motivates his actions (or seeming inaction).

Another name for God’s language is His will. Sometimes it makes sense. Over time we learn more of God’s language and have a better understanding. If we’re blessed, the Holy Spirit may reveal to us this divine language more often than not. But even after decades studying God’s will, there are always those times when we suddenly realize we don’t understand.

Job is a great example. He lived “blameless and upright” before God (Job 1:1). Yet he lost everything he owned and his children. How was Job supposed to make sense of this? He couldn’t. But in the midst of his grief, Job’s first response was to worship God and say, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (1:21).

There are good things we don’t understand either. One of my personal favorite passages is Philippians 4:6-7:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

What a wonderful promise! God blesses us with peace beyond our understanding. In the midst of grief and suffering, we can have peace that cannot be explained by our circumstances.

While God may bless us with many other things, the ultimate gift beyond understanding would have to be giving up his own son Jesus to suffer and die in our place.

For God so loved the world,] that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

How can we rationalize why God would sacrifice His own son for us? If you haven’t noticed, we don’t treat God very well. If we were a couple dating, God’s friends would be telling Him to ditch us and find someone better. Have you read Hosea? We’re adulterers. Humankind gives up God in exchange for almost anything. The truth is that we don’t deserve His love.

I’m glad that God’s will is beyond my understanding. If it were something I understood, then I wouldn’t be saved by Christ and accepted into His family. So I’m getting more comfortable with the confusion that comes when God does something I don’t understand. I trust Him, and I know His will is still good even when it’s beyond my understanding.

Besides, I have the rest of eternity to learn His language.

How Perfectionism Kills Progress

The Blog, Uncategorized

Cable cars over Madrid

In less than two months, my language partner has already figured me out. We meet every week to learn each other’s languages. She corrects my Spanish, and I help with her English. I have taken various Spanish classes since I was 13 years old, so I know a lot about Spanish and how it works. But over time I have realized that fluency has become less to do with the technical details and more about sounding natural.

I arrived in Spain ten months ago. Enough time for a full-term pregnancy. Friends tell me that my Spanish has progressed well since then. The classes have helped, but simply using Spanish in daily life is the real test. Talking with friends, store employees, waiters, and even strangers on the street lets me practice what I learn from books. It also is more stressful.

“You are a perfectionist.” That is my language partner’s summary. I know she is right. I can’t argue. My biggest difficulty in Spanish isn’t the conjugations or vocabulary. It’s a fear of mistakes.

Often when I’m talking with someone, I will notice a mistake as soon as I say it out loud. I immediately try to correct it. Therefore, I’m repeating myself multiple times in a conversation as I verbally edit myself. Or if not that, I speak in starts and stops, taking long pauses between words to order my thoughts and avoid any grammatical errors.

My friends have a lot of patience.

My language partner says I need to speak more naturally. Without fear.

We had this conversation while riding in a cable car over the city. We passed over a highway while cars rushed by under us. I was happily taking photos of the scenery without a thought to what a fall from that height would do to me. I don’t have a fear of heights. But when it comes to Spanish, I explained to her, I find myself with stage fright.

Relax, she told me.

View from the cable car

Instead of helping, my perfectionism is getting in the way. Being afraid of making mistakes actually makes it harder for me to communicate and connect. This applies to much more of life than simply learning a foreign language.

Since birth, we’re trained to avoid risk. We learn to be cautious to survive. The risks we do take are controlled and managed to reduce negative outcomes. Instead of asking someone out face-to-face, we date online. We submit anonymous complaints to our workplaces. We watch TV programs about travel instead of going ourselves. We don’t talk to our neighbors. We keep the stable job instead of pursuing our dreams.

My language partner said I was brave to come to Spain. I’ve heard it before, but I don’t feel it. The truth is I’m still afraid. Deciding to come was easy. The unknowns, everything I have yet to learn, the daily stretching and growing…these are the hard parts. These are the things I cannot control.

I hope that this blog can be an encouragement for anyone, no matter where you are. But I particularly want to write for other people living and working cross-culturally. We cannot be perfectionists. Every day is messy work. The best we can do is relax and take each day as it comes. Worry and fear will not help us. Instead, we must limit our self-expectations, knowing that mistakes are inevitable, and let God handle the rest.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:6
In which area of your life do you need to relax and trust?