Learning is hard—and humbling. When we’re kids, we are learning all the time—how to read, how to ride a bike, how to swim, how to play the piano. It’s like a full-time job, and it takes vulnerability that we take for granted. But then there comes a point, maybe at around age 12 or 13, when we start acting like we know everything. “Fake it ‘til you make it” becomes our motto, because our worst fear is looking dumb. But the problem is, you kind of have to look dumb sometimes if you’re going to learn anything or build authentic relationships.
There are SO many humbling learning moments when you’re stepping into a new culture, a new job, or just a new transition in life. There are all these “rules” you don’t know about, or a language you can’t understand, and you’re not always sure who you can trust as you’re learning these things.
I remember a spring break adventure during one of my mission experiences in Yap, Micronesia, when a group of us female teachers took the ship to Ulithi, some outer islands of Yap. We were really excited, but had been warned that the ship was no easy ride. Cheap, maybe, but not easy. We thought we were hard-core enough to handle it, and were pretty excited to be traveling like locals—for only $12! Our enthusiasm and pride died down quickly when each of us took turns throwing up multiple times once we got out on the stormy ocean waves. Before we’d left, as we had settled into our spot on deck, I’d noticed that we were surrounded by a bunch of men in their traditional “thu’us.” I thought they were there to watch and laugh at us in our misery. As it turned out, they were island chiefs who had been asked by the father of one of the teachers with us (who was from Yap) to keep an eye on us and make sure we were ok. And they did. They found a plastic jar to use for our “motion discomfort,” and emptied it overboard for us when it was used (many times). They spoke kindly, rubbed our backs while we vomited, and even found some anti-nausea medication to give to each of us—which is probably the reason I’m here today, I think!
After those 17 long hours, I learned that my weakness—my “looking dumb”—transformed my view of those men. They weren’t just big, mysterious, betel-nut-chewing island men. They were island chiefs keeping a promise by humbly serving sick (and perhaps arrogant an unprepared) missionary teachers. It gave me a new humility and respect for the culture and people I was serving, and reminded me to be very careful about my perceptions and judgments. I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing it meant something to the island chiefs as well, to be able to help us in our time of need. We had created a new, authentic relationship, even if it was only 17 hours long and didn’t include very many English words.
You know what? It’s ok if you don’t have it all figured out—in a new culture, a new position, or a new time in life. It’s ok to take some time to watch, listen, pray, and ask questions before diving in head-first and learning the hard way. But realize that often it’s the “looking dumb” that Jesus can use to actually help you learn the most, and even create opportunities to relate and minister in a unique, humble way. And it’s likely that Jesus will use it to change you just as much as it changes those you’re serving.
*Twice a month, we send out a short devotional to our volunteers. This was written and sent out by Andrea Keele on September 22, 2014.