I’ve heard many times that when a person loses one of their senses the other senses become more sensitive and acute in order to compensate for the loss.
I have been speaking Spanish for 6 years now. I have “Good Spanish Days” where things flow smoothly and “Bad Spanish Days” where my words are clunky and awkward. I have days when I can’t understand anything anyone is saying to me. I have days when I want to hide in my house and not speak Spanish to anyone. I have days when I dread, I mean dread, going to a meeting or get-together because it’s all going to be in Spanish. I used to loathe going to church and sitting through a 5 hour Spanish service with my 20 minute attention span. (Those were the days I would end with a migraine from concentrating so hard.) When I get nervous or angry, I sound like an babbling idiot.
When we first started learning Spanish I wanted to tell everyone I spoke with, “I know I sound like a 2 year old, but I’m really quiet intelligent in English.” I was usually a sentence or two behind in any given conversation, and even when I wanted to participate by the time I formulated a reply, the moment of opportunity had long passed. Having my language abilities drastically limited was like receiving a devastating wound, like losing a limb or losing one of my senses. I felt handicapped, marginalized, ignored, depressed and frustrated. It changed me in ways I will never be able to fully explain.
Before we left for the mission field I was a pretty shy person, very private and not inclined to talk much with people I didn’t know. After 3 years of being immersed in Spanish every day we returned to Minnesota for our first furlough. I noticed the change in my personality right away. I couldn’t stop talking to people- total strangers- everywhere I went! It was like I had 3 years worth of English words bottled up inside of me and someone shook the bottle and popped the top! I just gleefully exploded on the people in the grocery store line behind me, the kid working the McDonald’s drive thru window, anyone in a coffee shop… And the weird thing was that I knew I was acting like a lunatic, but I couldn’t stop! It was like having an out of body experience where I saw myself freaking out all these quiet, Minnesota Scandinavians and inside my head I was telling myself, “Shut up! These people don’t care that you’ve just moved back from Mexico.” But it was just so EASY to speak now because it was in English. I had changed.
Another thing that I noticed about myself was more spiritual. Because my natural crutch of English had been kicked out from under me I found myself relying more on my spiritual sensitivity, especially in churches and in God-related settings. When I didn’t understand the words of the song, couldn’t understand what the pastor is saying, didn’t have the Bible verses memorized in this new language I actually could FEEL the Holy Spirit much more quickly and more intensely than in the past. It was like being blinded, yet suddenly seeing with my heart. It’s kind of hard to explain, but because I had lost something so vital to me, something that helps me relate to those around me, my spirit was cleared of lots of clutter. I couldn’t excuse my non-participation by saying “Oh, I don’t like that song” or “This guy is boring to listen to”. My language crutch was gone and I had to stand alone- and that’s when I noticed God standing beside me and supporting me. It was a painful and sweet experience.
I still have bad Spanish days. I’m getting better, but I’m probably the least fluent missionary on my field. But I would rather feel God close to me than to not. I’d rather stand with the support of God than to stand on my own and ignore my crutches. Please God, Kick my crutches out from under me and help me to stand with you.