A Foreign Language

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The fatiguing day of verb conjugation at school burned out into an evening of conversational silence at home. Weeks prior, weariness had replaced the nine-month adventure of living abroad. Despite the buzz of traffic, drone of vendors, and hum of shoppers just outside our door, my husband and I habitually collapsed each night once our preschoolers drifted to sleep. 

As I wrapped up my bedtime routine, I quietly slipped into the kitchen to make lunches for the next day. Staring at the barren cabinets and an empty refrigerator, I remembered the unfulfilled grocery list I’d tucked in my purse that morning. “Mark?” I queried wearily. Soon, he had redressed and entered the electric energy of the Asian market street. 

The nearby supermarket had closed, leaving a mom-and-pop store as my husband’s only option. Since neither peanut butter or lunch meat was available in these smaller shops, Mark figured his best option for protein would be eggs. Brought in fresh each morning, hen eggs were arranged in unrefrigerated bins and sold by weight. Realizing they usually sold out by mid-afternoon, Mark knew that finding them at 10:45 p.m. might prove futile.

To boost his spirits, Mark decided to make the most of this language opportunity. Our Mandarin teacher always emphasized using what we learned, so Mark put together several clauses in preparation for the interaction. In theory, he would politely address the young woman, apologize for the tardiness of the hour, and then ask about the availability of eggs. In reality he said, “Excuse me Miss. I know it is late and you are ready to close and go home. But I was just wondering…are you lonely?

Most people with foreign culture interaction have language blunders. We assume what we say actually means what we intend. Yet, when communicating in an unfamiliar society, I’ve found that using the right questions is more important than angrily trying to press a point. It’s usually me who has made the faux pas anyway. 

What if I learned to ask God better questions? Indeed, communicating in spirit and truth often seems like a foreign language exchange. Former DC policeman Jamie Winship says officers never ask “why?” in response to supervisory orders. Instead, they ask “What do I need to know?” and “What do you want me to do?” 

What if I reframed my queries to God? What if I used His language more fluently instead of frustratingly asking Him “why?” Based on Winship’s framework for questions, I’ve compiled the following list to take to our Father during prayer today: 

  • What do you want me to know about my problem?
  • What do you want me to do about it?
  • What negative emotion is influencing my understanding?
  • What lie is connected with that negative emotion?
  • What am I afraid of?
  • Lord, is there anything in me that is keeping me from being who You want me to be?
  • What are the things I’m doing for You that You haven’t asked me to do?

As I have reassessed my interactions with God, I’m discovering new insights into His heart that I’d never understood. Something as effortless as changing my questions is moving me out of a rut that has held me fast for months. There is truly a simplicity to devotion to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3). Let’s learn His language and go there together, shall we?