Before we left the US, I wrote a blog about moving… digging up your roots and replanting somewhere else.
I remembered that just the other day, as I realized that the growth of a plant is really an incredible picture of what it’s like to “grow” into another culture.
For one, there’s the roots. So many times, I want to fit in “right now”. I want to know what to say “right now”, know how to act “right now”. Really though, so much of our growth, as strangers in another country, is downward growth. It’s not the big flashy phrases or entire conversations held, although that might happen from time to time. More often, it’s the faithful consistent greeting to the fruit vendor or the guardian, or the stumbling, sometimes painful, conversations with the lady who comes in to clean. It’s the little by little by little, that can at times look like nothing. It’s something. It’s deepening roots and building a way for those big conversations later on, by showing that you care today.
Then there’s the leaves. They do come eventually. But have you ever sat and watched a leaf unfurling? Does it just suddenly pop out, fully leaf-like? Nope. It’s a slow, agonizing process to watch if you stare at it every second. Language learning for me, is especially like that. Am I making progress? Am I really getting better? I still make the same stupid mistakes I remember making last month or the month before. Will I ever get better at saying what I want to say?
The leaf is uncurling but the progress is so slow and steady that I don’t even notice it. Sometimes I won’t even notice a leaf on a plant until well after it has fully opened. I do a double take, realizing that the leaf has been there for a while and I’m just now seeing it.
When I look at back at how far I’ve come, I feel the same way with language learning. That word, or phrase which was tripping me up like crazy… when did it become more natural to say it the right way? With culture too… That situation… three months ago I wouldn’t have known what to do there. How did I get comfortable?
Finally there’s the fruit. We all like the fruit right? But let’s think about this. Fruit takes a long time. Even plants that bear fruit quickly, still have quite a process from seedling to fruit bearer, and that’s if you don’t transplant them. Fruit takes a lot of work, but it too starts small. It’s easy to want to jump in when your feet hit the ground in a new country. “Fruit!” we cry, “We’re going to bear fruit for the Lord!”
It’s a great goal and an honorable goal. But I think it’s important to remember that before the fruits come the roots, and after the roots come the leaves, and then, when the plant is stable, and well established, we start seeing the fruits.