“What’s Your Problem?”
People are defined by their problems. Here’s a more accurate way to put it: You are defined by whatever you consider your most important problem.
A heartbreakingly large number of people in the world have to address the same vexing problems day after day: What are we going to eat today? How can I keep my children safe? Where can I find adequate healthcare? Who will take care of me when I can no longer take care of myself? People who experience greater prosperity begin to trade up for what we might call better and more interesting problems.
The problem with your problems, however, is that they might not be big enough. Sometimes we obsess over problems that are far too small: How can I get the recognition I deserve? How can I get rid of this sag around my middle? Who should the Colts start at quarterback next fall? What’s the simplest and easiest way to get rich?
You might protest that figuring out how to become rich is hardly a small problem, or everyone would have solved it. But it’s wiser to say that accumulating wealth is not a noble problem. It’s not a problem worth living and dying for. People with larger visions and what we might call “large souls” surrender their lives to extraordinary problems: How can we end human trafficking? How can a free society be both secure and welcoming to outsiders? How can we safeguard the earth’s fragile ecosystems? How can we eradicate poverty?
Sometimes the good life is pictured as a condition of having to face fewer and fewer problems. Sometimes even spirituality is marketed as the surest route to a problem free existence. But as corporate transformation guru Ichak Adizes points out, the only condition that absolutely guarantees the cessation of problems is death. “Having fewer problems is not living. It’s dying. Addressing and being able to solve bigger and bigger problems means that our strengths and capacities are improving”. In other words growing up and being successful doesn’t mean avoiding problems. It means having the courage to trade up to far more worthy problems.
As Jesus wrapped up his earthly ministry, having defeated humanity’s previously undefeated enemy (death) by rising from the dead, it appeared the disciple’s problems were over. But that was the very moment Jesus gave them the ultimate challenge. It’s called the Great Commission: “Go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them everything I have commanded you, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19). All of a sudden they have this multi-generational job assignment that will require everything they can possibly give.
That might turn out to be a problem.
But the next verse changes everything. Jesus says, “And remember this: I am with you always, all the way to the finish line.” We may have been given the world’s most difficult and worthy challenge, but we’re also blessed to be in partnership with the greatest Problem-Solver the world will ever know.
So what’s your problem? We all need a problem so big and so important that it cannot be solved unless God shows up. Which interestingly enough, turns out to be the best definition of what it means to be rich.
Ron Naylor, Chaplain