What to do with the devil’s language

Francis Xavier, the first foreigner known to have visited Japan, has often been quoted as calling Japanese “the devil’s language.” All that I can say is — Amen to that!
These past six months I have been coming to terms with my feelings about this language that I am surrounded about and attempt to use a hundred times a day. What I’ve realized is: not only do I not like it, but it is also probably the area of my greatest insecurity in ministry. Having lived in Japan for about eight years altogether, and been associated with it for about eighteen, you would think that I wouldn’t have to think about it at all! But I think about it A LOT, and often it’s in terms of feeling inadequate.
I am comfortable using Japanese here. This means: I can converse with neighbors and friends in japanese; talk on the phone; have conversations with Owen’s teacher; attend our Japanese house church…you get the picture. But I am aware that while I’m conversing, I’m still making numerous mistakes (bad patterns that have a way of getting imprinted and reused over and over)…that there are still large chunks of vocabulary that I confuse or forget or misuse…that my writing and reading has digressed the past few years rather than increased. Yes- the devil’s language!
On Friday, Eric and I had our first phone coaching appointment with our good friend and fellow missionary, MaryJo. We have asked her to help coach us in Japanese…she is not only our best missionary model of fluency in the language, but she also loves to think about ways to study Japanese. Eric’s vocabulary, pronunciation, and fluency has really surpassed my own (which I’m so glad about it – thankfully this has never been a place of competition in our marriage)…but he needs to work on learning kanji, the Japanese writing system. So we’ve asked MaryJo to help us.
At the beginning of the call, MJ prayed for our time. In it she acknowledged the challenges of this language, but she said thank you to God for Japanese. Right then, it hit me. Recent thoughts on the discipline of practicing, and the very lesson of the previous Sunday (see One Point Lesson) was on giving thanks for the challenges in our life. I had never thought about – nor probably even wanted to – say thank you to God for Japanese. This goes WAY beyond challenges with our dining room set-up. Japanese – my thorn in the flesh here! Yet that is exactly the point.
“In everything, give thanks.”
That afternoon as I biked to pick up Owen at school, I made myself as an act of the will thank God for Japanese. Yesterday, when driving back from a Japanese study session, it was a little easier to say thank you to God for this. I can easily acknowledge that it drives me closer to God as I struggle. And somehow, thankfulness in this area helps to release some of the pain that has been associated with it.
MJ gave both of us some great suggestions, and we set up some goals for the next few months. We are going to help release each other every week for several hours of language study, focusing on the areas where we want to learn right now. You can pray for both of us — that we will be diligent and make some good advances in our studies, and that I will continue practicing being thankful. Maybe…in time…God and I can prove Francis Xavier wrong.


One thought on “What to do with the devil’s language

  1. Amen! Jen really wants me to learn, and teaches me words here and there, but it’s too hard because I never get to use it much. Hang in there Sue!

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