When I was 16, I spent six weeks in Venezuela with some missionaries and some nationals. It left a significant impact on me, and I get why my parents believe that sending their kids on mission trips was one of the best decisions they made as parents. I learned a lot about interacting with other cultures and gained a lot of, um, interesting experience using my rather fledgling Spanish.
At one point, in a conversation with one of the pastors and his wife, I remarked that the Coca-Cola there was pretty inexpensive. At least I thought I said that, until they snickered. Then guffawed.
Once the accompanying missionary stepped in, I discovered that I’d actually remarked that the cocaine there was cheap.
Ah, yes. A lovely sentiment from the kid on a missions trip. We all had a very good laugh at me, and though I wish that wasn’t the only language flub I made, it did manage to be the most royal.
Sometimes I might as well be speaking another language in my marriage! We’ve been married for 10 years, but I still have to relearn a language — my husband’s. And the man speaks English.
You may have heard of the Five Love Languages: the ways we “speak” and “hear” love most fluently. Now, my primary “languages” of giving and receiving love are words of affirmation (I adore loving words and conversations; I glow when I see blog comments) and serving — doing loving things or having them done for me. But my husband’s love languages are actually gift-giving (meaningful, well-selected gifts of all types), physical touch, and quality time — doing stuff together.
There ain’t a matchin’ one between us. Sometimes, when I think I’ve really shown my husband love — like telling him how much he means to me, or leaving notes in his lunch — it might as well be conversational Swedish. He genuinely appreciates my gesture and finds it meaningful. But as for accomplishing my goal — making him feel loved — I’m hitting more my sweet spot than his. The times when I’ve really hit it out of the park with him are most often when I’ve “spoken” his love languages: a well-thought-out gift, a massage after a hard day, or playing a game with him.
Even further than that are times when I’ve entered his “culture.” Before I went to Venezuela, I spent months learning about what I was getting into — not only learning the language, but also their world. I didn’t want to offend or be unnecessarily offended. I had to understand their history, what concerned them, important occasions, what they valued. I’ve had to ask similar questions and make similar observations of my man: walking in his shoes, spending time thinking about his world, and entering into the day he’s had or the concerns he’s wearing.
Someone told me as a newlywed to be a student of my husband and never stop (good advice, because he’s always changing). It’s easy for me to get head-down focused on my kids and their needs, along with my world and my own exhaustion. But God made me one flesh with my husband, not my kids — and my marriage represents Christ to the world. If I can tell you what’s going on in my kids’ hearts but not my man’s, I’ve got a problem. I’ve gotta know his culture even better than theirs.
… Especially if I plan to order a bubbly beverage in his language.
Janel Breitenstein graduated summa cum laude from John Brown University and began her career with NavPress, where she worked on The Message Bible. After having four children she resumed her professional career (around her momlife) by serving as a writer for FamilyLife. In January of 2012 Janel and her husband, John, packed up their family of six and moved to Uganda to serve with Engineering Ministries International (eMi), an organization that focuses on poverty relief and development, providing structural design and construction management for Christian organizations in the third world. Join us as we all learn first hand, through Janel’s posts, what it’s like to go from suburban America, to answer God’s call in Africa!