Sunday, September 4, 2016

Learning the Language

As I may have mentioned previously, this has been a particularly difficult summer. My family has had some close-calls, and my personal medical issues have flared up. This is all in addition to my classes, which have been the hardest I've taken so far.

It is easy to feel that I am far too stupid to get a degree, particularly in my major. So many people have told me that I'll probably give up and have permanently set my life in the wrong direction with a worthless degree. If I had a $100,000 for every time I rolled my eyes in this situation, I'd be rich.

Anyway, my point is that it's discouraging because "it's all Greek to me!"

However, this isn't the first time that I've encountered a situation that's daunting to navigate. For a long time I thought I would never be accepted as a man because I wasn't athletic. My parents pressured me to play sports all through school (mainly swim team - *gag*) and I was always the last one picked because of my bumbling marshmallow skills. I ha It hurt my self-esteem a lot and I still have residual shame because of it.

(Okay, that sounded like my parents were tyrannical helicopter parents. They just wanted me to be healthy and fine-tune my abilities)

However, after I quit the swim team, I eventually unlocked athletic skills after countless hours of humiliating practice and punishment at the hands of coaches. I fought my way into being a starter on a varsity sports team and was very successful. It was crazy how people started noticing me because of athletic abilities I always told myself I'd never have!

Another example is cars. Ugh. I remember as a teenager absolutely hating working on cars. My dad would make me help him and it always seemed to be a hot, sweaty, grungy experience without much success. However, he taught me that being a man meant learning to do hard things to support your family.

Before I could drive, my dad made sure that I knew how to change tires. Then he taught me to drive at the age of ten (don't press charges, please). Pretty rudimentary, right? I thought I'd never get beyond that, but he insisted that I learn more so that I could be more self-sufficient and serve others. I learned how to check and change the oil, where to put which fluids, how to change taillights/headlights, and even some tricks to save money in regards to car maintenance (my parents taught me at an early age to escape from a locked trunk, but that's a story for another day). Now, I kind of like to work on my car. There's something so gratifying about being able to do something for yourself that others would charge you money to perform.

In my teenage years I decided that I needed to learn the language of politics (if you aren't fluent in this language, you're bound to be taken advantage of. For example, human history). I became competent enough to have intellectual debates with my teachers and peers, and have since have participated in dozens of political campaigns and do at least an hour of political research every day.

As a missionary, I had a ton of insecurities (which, as it turns out, is rather normal). Aside from experiencing same-sex attraction, I was very much introverted (I still am, frankly) and terrified to speak. Eventually, I forced myself so far out of my comfort zone that I had a hard time finding my way back (I've often described my mission as one big awkward moment) and learned the language of missionary work. I memorized scriptures and the basic structures of lessons. A common strength that my companions commented on in companionship inventory was that I always instigated conversations with strangers despite my shyness.

In high school I really struggled my first semester in anatomy. I felt so dumb and I was under so much stress from sports and health issues, but eventually I became one of the best students in the class, usually getting 100% on my tests where others failed miserably. I learned to speak the language of anatomy and flourished when before I thought I would die.

So, while I feel far behind my peers, I know that I'll eventually learn the language of statistics (although I think math will forever be my kryptonite).

Almost like the gift of tongues, our Heavenly Father enables us to learn the languages of things foreign to us. This allows us to relate to those around us and to overcome weaknesses associated with our bodies in a fallen world.

I might be going on a limb here, but you could say that I know the language of same-sex attraction. I understand how it feels, the longing, the urges, the shame, the confusion, the disconnect. I know how to recognize a good-looking man and I can recognize when I have a crush on one. I understand the attraction I have toward certain characteristics.

Could it be that same-sex attraction is just something I know how to do? By that same token, could opposite-sex attraction something that I could learn? (see Who knows. But as I've worked at learning the language of manhood, I believe that I'm becoming the man that my Heavenly Father intends for me to become, albeit at a significantly slower pace than He'd prefer.

We can learn the language of the aspects of life that we don't understand. Perhaps we won't become experts in such fields (okay, we're probably gonna fall pretty short of that standard), but we can at least understand and taste enough of another's experience to exhibit empathy. We aren't limited to our first language. We can all become poly-lingual in our mortal journey toward the kingdom of God.