A Prayer for Reverent Language Learning

posted in: Chinese | 0
“Reverence may take all kinds of forms,
depending on what it is that awakens awe in you by reminding you of your true size.”
An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor, pg. 21



Creative, Gracious, Awe-inspiring God,

I am working on learning Chinese.

Chinese tones sometimes baffle me.

There is actually a difference between those two sounds?

And I am supposed to be able to reproduce that with my mouth?

The characters confound me at times.

What does that one mean again?

I’m supposed to remember how to write that?

The sentence patterns are more complicated than I remembered.

There are more sentence patterns to express things than I ever knew.

Sometimes I want to stop and say: enough!  I’ll stick to the basic sentences.

There are moments I’m perfectly happy to settle for generally intelligible, but not correct Chinese.

And then there are the proverbs.  Hundred and hundreds of proverbs.

I want to learn them, to sound fluent and educated.

But they are hard to remember and use appropriately.


Loving God,

Trying to learn this language tells me again and again:

you are weak,

you are vulnerable,

you don’t have it all together.

Without this language I have lost my ability to:

read the newspaper,

understand advertisements,

answer the phone without the fear of not understanding the caller,

have a heart-to-heart conversation with a friend,

understand a sermon.

Learning Chinese reminds me of my true size in this world.

I am small, weak, vulnerable, and I don’t have it all together.


But you, God, are amazing.

You are creative: creating us with the capacity to communicate in so many different ways.

You are understanding: Chinese, English, Swahili, and thousands of other languages—you understand our hearts in all of them.

You are vast: all those languages and sentence patterns and tones and conjugations are not beyond you.  You are greater than the greatness of languages.

You are gracious: my worth does not depend on my ability to differentiate Chinese tones or use irregular English verbs correctly.  I am worthy only because I am created in your image and a daughter of the King.

You are strong: my weakness and vulnerability are strength in you.


In my weakness, help me to pay attention.

Pay attention to the tones, characters, sentence patterns, and proverbs.

May I catch nuances and use them well.

Help me to delight in this language, difficulties and all.

Help me to pay attention to my progress, to see how I am improving from day to day.

And as I pay attention, may it point me back to you, again and again.

May your power be made perfect in my weakness.

Lord, in your great mercy, hear my prayer.



P.S. Language learning is actually going fairly well, but it is slow and steady progress towards a huge goal.

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