Many of you will understand when I tell you that two things make me crazy. The first is when a friend or well-meaning person says jokingly, “It’s all Greek to me!” The other is when I meet someone who actually has found the Greek language to be a breeze. Recently I met someone who makes his Christmas lists in Greek to keep his family from knowing what he is purchasing. Never mind that he took the language a decade ago. People like that confound me.
I am somewhere in the middle with this language. It’s not “all Greek” to me, but Greek has certainly not come with ease. As I prepare to enter a second semester, I’ve realized that my first semester of Greek taught me much more than just the language. It turns out that learning Greek is making me a better person, and a better mom.
If you are scratching your head at that one, let me first paint the picture of just how difficult the language has been for me. I remember sometime around the third week. I realized that I wasn’t “getting” any of what I’d read or learned so far. Nothing was taking root for me. I started to doubt my ability to succeed.
Week four brought my most embarrassing moment as a seminarian (to date), when I raised my hand to ask the translation of a word I hadn’t been able to decipher, despite my best efforts. The answer? Jesus. Seriously, the answer was Jesus. (Go ahead and laugh; it’s funny.) At this point, I decided Greek was really not going well.
I vividly remember a conversation with my husband about six weeks in to class. As I drove to school, I fought the urge to turn around. “I cannot do this anymore,” I told my husband, my voice laced with desperation. He assured me that not only could I do it, but I should. “This is not the time to give up,” he urged. I consented. I love that man.
There was the day that a sweet friend asked me at break how I was doing. Unable to control my own feelings of potential disastrous outcomes, I cried. Right there, in the third row of the classroom, sandwiched in between a young guy who had Greek undergrad and was floating through (he probably made his Christmas list in Greek, for all I know) and a man well past sixty who might have had an even harder time with the language than me, I got teary-eyed on my friend. I know she’s sorry she asked. That’s the thing about seminary–you can’t go there feeling anything but great and leave without being asked. Ministers-to-be have a homing device for hurting people. And I was hurting– suffering under the mighty weight of Greek.
But I gutted it out. And I’m going back for more. In the end, my grade proved that my round-the-clock study and hard work was worth the effort, and I am so much richer for taking on something that proved almost impossible.
For starters, I am a far more empathetic parent when my child struggles with a concept. My oldest child finds math as hard as I find Greek, but we’ve been bonding over our inadequacies. When I told him about the day I cried in class, he looked at me with new eyes. “Really??” he asked. “Really, yep, I did. I got that frustrated. Do you ever feel that way?” What followed was a heart understanding that would never have existed without Greek.
This experience has also been a chance to model for my kids that moms can (and should!) try difficult things. My daughter sees me managing our family dynamic and challenging school work. I wonder if one day she will do the same. My mother did, and I still remember grad school projects that consumed some of her evenings. Having goals and going for them is part of being a strong woman and a good example for my kids, as long as I can maintain some semblance of balance between home and school.
At the close of my first year of seminary, on my last paper in Old Testament, my professor noted that she appreciated my tenacity. How I’ve treasured those words. I hid them away in my heart, like Mary.
You see, I’ve thought of myself as audacious many times, but not really a tenacious woman. This professor helped to redefine the way I see my call and gifts, and learning Greek has continued to develop my tenacity.
So I am learning ancient Greek, and Greek is teaching me the language of tenacity. And those two new languages make all the effort worthwhile.
Christy Foldenauer is a speaker for retreats and services and a student at Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. Learn about her ministry and read her blog.