In this post, I’d like to tell you about the difficulty and depression associated with learning another language. Language school is a horrible time. There is nothing like leaving your home country and learning a new language. If you have never learned a new language it is a humbling experience. How? Well, just imagine you speak like a 3 year old for 6 months and an 8 year old for… well I’m a year and a half in, I’ll let you know when I get to double digits.
I haven’t felt depression like I felt while learning a new language. What is depression? For me, it was a feeling of complete hopelessness. It was a feeling of not being able to go on and not having the desire to go on. It made me gain weight, sleep too much, and be grumpy. I went from laughing and joking in English to feeling darkness all the time. It was as if I was stuck outside in the pitch black cold with heavy fog and no hope of sunshine.
I’m not still there, it is possible I may return but if I do, I’ll have a better idea of what to do. I’m no expert on dealing with depression. My experience is very unique but I think there are some things that the Lord taught me during this time. I offer them to you:
- Easiest step – get outside and sweat. I started playing basketball once a week. I’m not good at basketball. In four months of playing, I scored 6 points. I committed 38,000 fouls, and I felt every step I ran. At the beginning, I’d go home and eat IBProfun and bananas. After a little while, I started playing soccer. I’m actually worse at soccer than I am at basketball, and that’s pretty bad. But something about getting out, sweating, running, and doing something that was not memorizing verbs was good for the body and soul, even if I was always picked last.
Did you expect a real Christianese answer? Did you want me to tell you about how much of the Bible I read? Ha! That’s good and all but I was doing that and still in a deep dark depression. It was all that Bible reading that lead me to study another language in the first place! I needed to do some exercise for the health benefits and just be a dude conjugating verbs is fine and all but it has its limit. Paul told Timothy , “Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Tim 4:7b-8). Paul does not discount the benefits of bodily training. Training your body is of value, it is not of more value than godliness but it is of value. I needed to increase my bodily value. If you have a stone cold heart and six pack abs it is to your detriment and those around you. We should be caretakers of God’s creation of which we are. So get out a sweat a little.
- Plod – Keep on going. William Carey is called the “Father of the Modern Day Missions Movement.” He began his work in India and ministered there for 7 years before he had his first convert. After many years of faithful ministry, he was asked about how he was able to be successful. He replied, “I plod.” Plod is an old word for being slow and steady in what you are doing. Carey was successful not because he started out fast but because he kept going, even when the going was very slow. I thought much of Carey, his plodding, and I prayed desperately to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I was also encouraged that where God guides us and calls us to a ministry that he provides the necessary resources. If your situation has you depressed, keep going. Don’t let your situation win but you win by plodding.
- There is an elder at the church who taught me this next one – Look Away. He’s a mix between an old sage and Mr. Magoo. I mean no insult with the Mr. Magoo comment. Let me explain. Mr. Magoo has been in many shows and cartoons. He’s always finding himself in problems because he is so nearsighted that it is like he is blind. This old sage like Mr. Magoo, finds himself in situations that he would have preferred to avoid. His nearsightedness gets him in these situations. This elder doesn’t have poor eye sight but he is of singular vision. If you spend 5 minutes with him, he will say, “Eyes of Christ” (Heb 12.2). He just looks to Jesus and lets everything else just kinda happen. I talked with him several times throughout the darkness and he made sure to remind me to keep looking to Jesus. I’d want to focus on myself. He wants people to focus on Jesus. His system worked out a lot better than mine. So look to Jesus. Don’t get bogged down with a 5 year plan. Make the most of today by looking to Jesus who is working all these things for your good (Rom 8:28).
Look ahead. This final point comes with great emotion. Before moving to the mission filed, I went on several short term trips. These trips were to one location in Ecuador. Going to one place allowed me to get to know some of the local brothers, even if using a translator. When bringing my family on a vision trip, I was greeted by name by Felix, a pastor and a man who has faith that is like a mountain. I greeted Felix through a translator and told him I would be back to speak to him by myself. When I talked to my team leader while being in the darkness, he told me that Felix was asking about me and praying for me and my language learning. I can’t tell you how that made me feel. An issue all missionaries face is loneliness and the depression is heavy because you don’t know if you matter to anyone. You feel forgotten. When I heard that the one guy I really wanted to talk to was asking about me, it was like a shot of Red Bull in my soul. I started looking anew at verb conjugations. Later that day, I began to pray for Felix, in Spanish, my very first time. I had tears rolling down my eyes because I was able to communicate to God in a new language. The tears continued to roll when I thought of speaking to Felix. Those same cheeks had poorly concealed tears when I went to meet him and speak without a translator for the very first time. There is an end to your situation. Your today is not your forever so make the most of today.
Throughout all this, I read my Bible. I prayed. I attended church. I did things I should have done but I had neglected some things. I neglected my physical body. Depression really hits your body hard so you have to hit back! Depression gave me the feeling of wanting to give up. I combated this feeling by stories of greater men and women who kept plodding. Read biographies of your heroes. Their lives were not all flash and glam. Many of them suffered depression and faced great difficulties. They are remembered because they just kept going. You need to keep going too. Depression makes us look inward more than we should. Introspection is very good but it is not healthy when it becomes all negative. It is even worse when we forget that we need to view ourselves as Christ views us. He calls us his friend, he loves us, he died for us, he is with us, he is coming back for us, we are his family, he fights for us and he lives in us are just a few of the things he says about us. Depression says – you can’t do this. Jesus says we can. He’s right, your depression is wrong. Finally, remember that today is not forever. Today is just today. You have 24 hours, make it count but realize after 900 hours of learning another language you’ll be able to speak to Felix.