I love languages. So many little things get stuffed into a conversation that can never be teased out in translation. Nuances of culture and figures of speech are only the beginning of what comes through in another tongue. Knowing this is exciting, but can also be a bit disheartening every time I speak with somebody in a language other than English. For as much as I can understand, I know that I’m always missing the details of a quip or the heritage of a reference.
This was equally true while travelling in Cuba. My friend Jeremy and I managed to get a driver named Santiago to take us to various parts of the country. It was going to be perfect. Except not quite, because Santiago did not speak a word of English. Originally, I didn’t think this would be an issue because Jeremy had spent a year going to school in Spain. Unfortunately, Jeremy’s “year” in Spain turned out to be a six-week summer stint that I had somehow created into a year with my own imagination. Combine that with the fact that my Spanish was learned by reading Harry Potter in New Zealand and you don’t come up with fluency even if you add the two together.
Jeremy, Santiago and I spent so much time toiling over basic conversation topics. Half of every sentence would be lost in translation. We would start a conversation then rephrase, repeat and carry on. Santiago was patient, even as he explained the simplest concepts while Jeremy and I either pretended like we understood or often took a meaning that was never intended.
This has made me consider the way we communicate with God and made me ask the question; how often do we just not get it? On one side God is painting a picture for us and on the other we start to make assumptions before the painting is complete. Rephrasing and repeating wouldn’t help because we quit listening after the first time through. To communicate with God, we have to not only learn to how he speaks, but to truly listen to what He is trying to tell us. No matter how many times we must hear it.
The other part of this whole situation that hit me at the end of the trip, was the relationship that formed, despite all the confusion. By the end of the trip, Santiago, Jeremy and I all had inside jokes and crazy references. We could laugh together and make up songs. We had fumbled through life stories and even created some pretty good ones of our own that week.
Though we may lose sight of what God is trying to tell us, we can still build a relationship with Him if we share a part of our life. We can tell stories and make stories, laugh at jokes and sing out loud. All the while building the basis of a relationship. Intentional friendship does not get lost in translation.