Robert & Roberta Adair

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In May, R and I went to A2′s week-long retreat in beautiful Karuizawa.  This year’s theme was releasing prayer and listening to the rhema (or revealed word) of God.

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Both to practice and to be ministered to ourselves, we had little “prayer exercise” times with members of an experienced prayer team from CA.  The first night, we were to ask God a few questions (for ourselves and for others) and listen.

[Note: I'm not so good at this.  I have trouble distinguishing between God's voice and leading with my own imagination and ideas.  I doubt a lot; I have fuzzy hearing.  I long to hear God's voice directing me to the right or left (Isaiah 30:21) yet, despite a few occasions of being confident that God was clearly leading me, I am a pretty big doubter.]

The first night…um…I kind of forget what we were to ask God, but I remember what happened immediately after asking.  I felt really overwhelmed – and sick to my stomach – by the word “behind.”  It’s not that I thought God was thinking that of me but that he was revealing to me how much I was thinking that of me.

Behind in ministry and feeling I should know my niche, my calling by now.  Some people have such clear callings and interests: English, sports, art, prison, youth, marriage and family, immigrants, etc.  I have, “Er, I just met you.  Wanna get coffee and get to know each other a little more?” (I’m aware how creepy that sounds.)

Behind in family.  I was sitting around people my age with multiple children and felt a weird panic.  And an emptiness.  I felt the same thing when we heard of a friend of R’s pregnant with kid #5.  I felt fear of my biological clock and of more loss, pain, and disappointment.

Those are big things, but the big zinger for me at the time was: behind in Japanese.

Such shame.  Such discouragement.  I, really imperfectly, worked hard at language study – often feeling like my methods and my learning style were a total mismatch.  …often feeling lazy and stupid when I would give up for the day and take a nap (or when I would meet another foreigner who rocked while I plopped).  …often feeling like it’s beyond my capacity.  …feeling like learning Japanese is my job – or at least a qualification for my job (to be able to communicate freely in the language of the people with whom I’m living), and I’m failing – I’m behind.

That first night I tried, by myself, to “release this over to the Lord.”  Yet how many times had I already written in my journal and prayed over the last year: “Lord, I don’t have a clue how to study or how to learn this language.  Please help me!”  ”Today please give me strength and a spongy mind for understanding and retaining.”  ”Help!  I need discipline, hope, a miracle, etc.” (answer: I prayed and wrote that type of prayer a lot.)

Japanese and calculus

Either the next day or the day after, I had a semi-mandatory private prayer session with 2 ladies – one a facilitator and one an intercessor.  As they led the time, this behind thing came up rather quickly.

They asked me what I was feeling, seeing, remembering.  Several memories came to mind quite clearly; each making my head droop further and further…and all having to do with math.

…Being a “bright kid” (or so I thought) and transitioning to “average kid” math in middle school (and struggling).

…Sitting in experimental math classes in 9th and 10th grade learning how to make cool tessellations using a T9-something calculator but not having a flying clue what any of it meant.  I faked it with extra-pretty pictures, but I feel I lost 2 years of math.

…Going back to “average kid” trig in 11th grade and being behind the other kids.  I felt so dumb…but instead of asking for help (really, though, I felt it was too late, which is a sad thought for a 15 year old), I cheated.  I cheated a lot and in some manipulative, ugly ways.  It was my secret; it was my shame.

…Signing up for some ridiculous reason for AP Calculus (following the path of my 2 math wiz older sisters).  I vaguely remember sitting in class and later trying to do my homework and being utterly, entirely, hopelessly lost (and convinced I was the only one).  The shame, the stupidity I felt in dropping out was harsh, and I remember bawling like a baby.  I was a math failure.  This is something I kind of knew already, but it was now very clear.

In college, I picked a major where I could take “average kid” math instead of a couple other majors that were more appealing.  I was afraid of anyone finding out how stupid I really was – and of failing.  (dude, I’m the daughter of a world famous statistician after all.  And I contented myself that I might not have the brains or the beauty, but I had the brawn.  I was strong.  (I think I just heard Robert snicker.)

One by one, with the two ladies from the prayer team, I released these memories and the accompanying shame and defeat over to the Lord in a repeat-after-me prayer.

Then, little by little, it was clear that Japanese = Calculus for me.  It was impossible.  I was too stupid.  It was for smart, mathy people.  (It is uber-formuleic.  I’m not sure if any other language has so many charts.  I stink at this.  It’s not intuitive for me at all.)  I would eventually have to quit; it’s beyond my capacity.  My stupidity would be exposed to my church, mission, supporters…the world. (dramatic hand gesture.)

I also felt the same overwhelming feeling of knowing I needed help but not knowing how to get it.

We prayed.  I tried to talk with God about this – even repeating the phrases they said.  It was hard stuff, but I felt like I had begun the task of releasing this over to him.

I’m still processing what began in May (poorly.  It’s been 7, 8 months after all).  I failed my language proficiency test a month after the retreat.  I still don’t know what is a good way for a non-math person to study Japanese.  I, with the language of “immersion,” allowed myself to focus a lot on people and not a lot on language in the last months…which means I’m not able to actually focus on people well.

Japanese and calculus

But I need to get back into this language thing.  I need to trust that “With God, all things are possible.”  I was with two young Oxford grads this week – who have pretty awesome Japanese despite being in country for less than 4 years.  Meeting them was both inspiring yet also reinforced for me that smart people can learn; dumb people can’t.  And yet…

It’s a new year.  I have a 4-5 month window of time that I can, should, and want to focus on language.  I ask for both prayer, ideas, and accountability (obviously not in the form of shaming me as I already feel that enough).  Please pray that I would stop seeing Japanese as I saw/see calculus.  Pray that I would see it instead as a journey – a climb – or some metaphor that is challenging yet surmountable.

[In the effort not to write another novel, I'll just write that this is apparently pretty American of me.  I probably give too much credit to innate ability and not enough to hard work.  Here's an interesting NPR special on Eastern and Western learning.]

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