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March 31, 2014 / windlessly

China Chronicles 3.31- Maybe God Isn’t Always Familiar

So I’ve been thinking a lot about my ability to learn Chinese recently. Lots of PKU students have given me compliments about how good my Chinese is, but I feel like it’s really unwarranted: I have a limited vocab that I’ve learned to use very fluently, primarily with my parents back home. But if I stray off into any sort of topic in which my vocabulary is lacking, I crash and burn like the rest of the students working so hard to learn Chinese here. It’s not like my left-brain is any better than other people’s, or that I’m more gifted in any capacity. In fact, sometimes I feel like my bilingual family circumstance hinders me from learning Chinese efficiently. 

I noticed in class today that after we went around the classroom introducing ourselves and our Chinese names, other students in 2nd year Chinese were able to retain at least most of the names, while I could not remember a single one. If the character was foreign to me and I’ve never heard it spoken at home in any sort of familiar context, it completely bounced off my memory. Was it because my brain was so attuned to latching onto familiar words? Were the pathways to be made by connecting a visual with a meaning completely dependent on an auditory connection as well? It’s very possible, and thinking about this has made me wonder what the best way for me to improve and learn new chinese characters is. I could try to memorize the visual from scratch and associate that with a meaning. Or I could first associate the visual with an auditory signal (like how it’s pronounced), and then associate THAT with a meaning. 

And then came the real whammy. I’ve wondered a lot this year why it’s been so hard to grow my faith. I have become more invested in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship back on campus starting fall quarter, I contributed in leadership roles, and I’ve expanded my knowledge about God and the ways I build a relationship through my actions and thoughts. But it’s slow going, and filled with pockets of doubt. Even coming out of SpringCon, an amazing experience and a really genuine encounter with God, I feel like I’m still the same Christian I was a couple of months ago. What’s the deal? How is putting me in a quarter abroad in Beijing making any sort of impact for my faith?

I wonder if the situation I’m in with my bilingual learning is a metaphor for my relationship with God. I’ve grown up in the church, and even in InterVarsity, I’ve learned to speak the same things and think the same thoughts. God will bless me if I give thanks and pray in all circumstances. Any hardships that I encounter must be God’s way of growing me to be a mature Christian. Any time I fall into a rut or spiritual valley, it’s because I didn’t keep up with my devotional and bible-reading time. As some of my IV friends like Brian shared, a lot of these Christian conferences end up looking like the same as well. (And more importantly, the post-retreat syndrome, in which everything looks bland upon returning to “reality,” especially compared to the spiritual high you just experienced at retreat). 

But the more we familiarize ourselves with these experiences, which are by no means bad in themselves, the more we close ourselves to the expansiveness of God. We look toward those same things for clues to point us to God: a particularly stunning coincidence, a mystifying peace- but end up forgetting to look elsewhere. I wonder if, by my experiences, that I’ve accidentally learned to only associate God with certain things, like moments of deep anxiety, desperation in the face of trial, or astonishment when an answer seems to be delivered solely through prayer. If that’s true, then just like learning Chinese characters only after I’ve bounded them to an auditory representation and meaning, then I’m totally limiting the way I can experience God and grow as a Christian. 

I don’t really know what it takes to get out of that mindset. I haven’t had a ton of time this past week to reflect on my SpringCon experiences and go deeper in my faith. I feel like my faith journey has been put on pause, with my own soul expecting to “go back on track” after a few days of settling into Beijing. But is that true? God doesn’t seem like the sort of character that would pause and unpause His work in our lives. I’m willing to bet that it’s my own shortcomings and attempts to put God into a pattern of experiences that’s the limiting factor. It makes more sense to me that God can stand alone, free of any associations that I try to paste on Him to fulfill my own sick need. 

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One Comment

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  1. textangel / Apr 22 2014 3:57 am

    Andrew, this post was actually really relevant and meaningful for me. I’m going to keep it 😛 Zheng ps Chinese is hard. same problems with Chinese here

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