Sometimes A+B=Crap

Posted by on Jul 6, 2012 in Faith, Mental Health | 0 comments

Sometimes A+B=Crap

I am not good at math. Never have been. Something about formulas and concrete answers and exact outcomes just confuses the heck out of me. I am much more comfortable with abstract thinking, shades of gray, and metaphors.

Maybe it’s my failure to fully comprehend math that leaves me frustrated with formulas… not just true mathematical formulas, but also formulaic thinking that tries to define things that I think really have no definition. At the same time that I’m frustrated, I also find myself craving formulas, exact parameters that make life more sensible and easy to navigate. I think this is human nature, that as much as we reject rules and formulas, at the same time we crave them for the sense of order and control they provide.

Take, for example, the following experiences…

At work: Oftentimes, a friend or acquaintance sends me a quick text or e mail asking for my input about a mental health issue, usually a concern with their child. I know it must seem like I can message back a quick and tidy answer since I work in this field, but unfortunately, there is no formula a + b = mental health that I can apply to a person or problem that will instantly cure it. Yes, there are principles and theories that guide the work, but there is no specific formula. Every person is different. It is harder than using a one-size-fits-all approach, but the work requires significant time and energy getting to know and understand each individual person and finding meaning in their unique background and experiences to understand how to help on an individual basis.

At home: If you have had a baby, then you know the entire world has an opinion on how you should be raising your precious child. There are so many books and approaches that reduce parenting to a formula. With my first baby, I found this to be especially true on the topic of infant sleep, a + b = sleep. All of the formulas that I read or heard about went against what felt right to me, so I didn’t use one. Husband and I used the most non-formula approach to baby sleep that I imagine the world has ever known. It was harder than using a one-size-fits-all approach because we had to pray and discern and adapt to find what felt like it best suited the unique needs of our babies and our family (we approached sleep with each one slightly differently), but in the end we found what was right for us. And both of our children go to bed easily in their own beds at night and sleep through the entire night, even though the formulas said it would not be possible.

At church: I find that sometimes even good church teaching gets twisted into the idea that there is a formula we can activate to make God perform on our behalf, and that if we have done a nice job of this, our lives will look just right… “If you do this, God will do that”… a + b = easy living, yes please, Amen! This is tricky, because there is some truth to this equation… there absolutely are principles and promises that you can count on in God. The problem is with the formula. Many times, the part of the equation between receiving the promise and seeing the end result of it involves a lot of stuff that just doesn’t seem to make good, simple sense. The truth is, you can do everything in your power to live a good, Godly life, and still have hardships and difficulties factored into the equation. God does not fit into the box of our human understanding. He tells us, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways… As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). It is harder than using a one-size-fits-all approach, but following and trusting God requires effort to hear His voice for you, confirm it through His Word, and then trust that it may look nothing like what you imagined.

The point I’m making is that in each of these instances, really in any area of life, the formulas oversimplify a much more complex and individual process. They provide an easy way out that only scratches the surface of everything that may be there. The examples I gave from work and home are really just observations, silly things in a way, but the issue of applying a formula to life in God I think is much more significant.

Here’s the problem with putting God into that kind of formula. It breeds pride in those who are prospering and condemnation in those who are struggling. It can give people who are blessed by the world’s standards a sense that their success is a result of their own piety and righteousness. It tends to leave those who are hurting or facing adversity feeling that they have been marginalized and ostracized by the church, and perhaps even God as well. We’ve again applied human understanding and formulas to the mystery that is the way of God. We forget that blessing, favor, and gifts from God don’t always fit the human definition of money, titles, and things.

“But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.” ~ Galatians 5:22-23 (The Message Bible).

I personally have felt the sting of well meaning people implying, sometimes stating directly, that some difficulty I was experiencing was the result of my failure to pray or perform correctly. What these people were saying is that I didn’t follow their formula. To them I say, respectfully but emphatically, you are wrong, about me and about the way my God of grace works. To anyone else who has felt this same sting, I encourage you to seek God’s answers and grace to understand the difficulties you have endured – He will not give you a formula, but He will give you direction, truth, conviction, understanding, and comfort.

“Naturally, we are inclined to be so mathematical and calculating that we look upon uncertainty as a bad thing…Certainty is the mark of the common-sense life. To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, we do not know what a day may bring forth. This is generally said with a sigh of sadness; it should rather be an expression of breathless expectation.” ~ Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

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