As those who are close to me know, I have had my toes in the pool of German for some time now. I attempted to jump in for the first time earlier this year, but then realized I had jumped into the kiddie pool… my bad. On the bright side, and upon retrospective reflection, I have learned a lot of spiritual parallels throughout my rocky attempts.
Before I start, and to make myself feel better, I’ll share my favourite Mark Twain quote on this particular topic. Anyone who knows me well will have no doubt heard me use this one, albeit slightly paraphrased: “My philological studies have satisfied me that a gifted person ought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing) in thirty hours, French in thirty days, and German in thirty years.”
That gives me a minimum of 28 remaining years, or 29 if you count the amount of time I actually really tried. See, there’s a bright side to every situation! No rush, right?!
First, the most common thing I heard from people sharing advice was “to become like a child.” I would like to take this time to quote a verse in the Bible: “And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never learn the language of German.’” (Matthew 18:3 - Cameron Butryn Translation) Obviously I am joking, but it’s amazing the effect that humility can have on someone. I was always so hung up being perfect, on making progress fast, and on not looking foolish. Kids just go for it -- I need to as well.
The second lesson I learned is the necessity of, what I like to call, “the skill of being miserable.” In more official terms, it would be called discipline. I am tempted to claim that there isn’t a more powerful trait than the ability to be miserable. The most worthy things in life are usually the most difficult things in life. If it weren’t hard, everyone would be doing it or it probably wouldn’t be worth chasing.
Discipline, the act of doing what you don’t want to be doing, but know you should be doing, is what separates the pros from the amateurs. I gave up my fight way too early because I didn’t want to feel the burn anymore. It’s fantastic because it’s really temporary pain. It’s the 10km, or whatever distance, you run before feeling the high of those beautifully pleasant endorphins. Just like the discipline of a faithful life to Jesus, it is only “for the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).
Lastly, I learned that no matter how many times a big scary German punches you in the face, you have to get back up for another punch. This, which goes hand in hand with discipline, is perseverance. One of the hardest things I’ve ever pursued is the language of German. I’ve learned you either need the utmost discipline or absolute necessity to learn it, but what supplements those two is the skill of perseverance. I’ve given up a couple times, but what is most important is picking yourself up off the ground and getting ready for the next swing.
Much like our pursuit of an upright and faithful life with Jesus in a fallen world full of temptations, what matters is never giving up. It’s about fighting the good fight. It’s about persevering to the end! “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).
To all of you facing your own battles, here’s to never staying down! Some things, despite the pain of the process, are simply worth the fight.
Oh, and a last word from Mr. Twain: “I don't believe there is anything in the whole earth that you can't learn in Berlin except the German language.”
Ain’t that the truth, brother, ain’t that the truth.