by Joe Greemore
Parenting can be a bit like trying to solve a certain six-sided, multi-surface object: try every possible combination, yet nothing seems to yield the desired result. I can think of maybe a handful of times I have successfully solved the world’s top-selling game (I understand the solution has something to do with focusing on the final position, not the starting point); the same can be said for the number of times I’ve successfully navigated moments of particularly problematic parenting.
I survey the landscape, taking inventory of the immediate situation, imagine the desired outcome, and do my best to show my kids I love them. It can be difficult not to get caught up in the minutia of details in the moment, and all too often the troubling behavior, the tone of voice, or the immediate context pervades the larger life lesson… The kids have come to anticipate my predictable if not peculiar response: witty wisdom, gentle firmness; occasionally, it’s a winning fit.
Life can be a bit like parenting, or like trying to solve a puzzle, only the pieces in life are fluid, not static; people change, grow, and adapt, fitting their deeply-held principles to their life-setting. The more the pieces move, the more the picture changes, the more the situation remains the same.
In Luke 4:14-21, it is as if Jesus is given the keys to life:
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Jesus seemed to have a sense that his ministry and calling were uniquely about helping, not hurting, people; about making things better, not worse, about restoring people’s human dignity and worth, not stripping them of it. He focused on the solution to people’s problems, having an image in mind of their wholeness, not bothering to overemphasize the problems themselves. “Focus on the solution, not the problem.” Great advice when followed; …easier said than done.
Peter found the value in these words when Jesus invited him to do the impossible by walking on water (Matthew 14:30). Mother Teresa must have been guided by this principle of solution-mindedness, focus on their wholeness, when she kissed and cared for street-bound lepers in Calcutta. Dr. King’s Dream was based on the fantastic idea that love, justice, and the disintegration of hatred that plagued his peers, was possible for all people. Mohandas Gandhi marched peacefully toward freedom, never-minding the momentary dangers en route to it. The Apostle Paul phrased the concept in this way:
“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8, NRSV
The Scriptures list countless others who focused on God and neighbor rather than challenging external circumstances: Joseph (Genesis 39), Ruth (Book of Ruth), Mary (Luke 1), the Good Samaritan (Luke 10); the list continues. Jesus is perhaps the greatest example of all, with his ministry of hope, restoration, and resurrection.
On this Martin Luther King, Jr. day and week, we are reminded of the lesson to focus on the desired good rather than the inevitable challenges we encounter along the way. What if in life, school, parenting, work, and play, we were to consider the immediate challenges with a similar, single-minded focus? I should think that in a very short time, the problems of the world would pale in comparison, and we would find ourselves living “your kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10) with every sacred breath.
As a family, read Philippians 4:4-8. Think creatively about ways you can make these words a reality in your life. Make a list of resolutions with your family outlining ways you can make a positive difference “focusing on the solution” this year in your sphere of influence, community, or culture.
You may also choose to: Post your resolutions in a visible place for several months. Encourage one another in your goals, and hold each other accountable in pursuit of these dreams. Pray specifically for these areas in each other’s lives as you team up to make a transformative difference in our world.
God of wonder, thank you for the lives of Dr. King, Mother Theresa, Gandhi, and others who worked as tireless examples of difference-makers in the world. Help us to find ways to be joyful in you every day, and remind us of your vision for all creation. We thank you and pray in Jesus’ name, for whose sake we pray. Amen.