Questions vs Answers, Part 4
…Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me. Matthew 25:40
One of the ways to handle an issue is to reframe it as a problem. Once an issue has been stated as a problem it better lends itself to being solved so folks can move on to something else. That often works well for business. It even works for some interpersonal issues, at least to a degree. Some issues, like some questions, have neither answers nor solutions, however. For example, your child comes to you and says, “My heart hurts.” An attentive parent will attempt to discern if this is a problem in need of a quick response, such as a cardiac issue that needs prompt medical attention, or a less well-defined dilemma requiring attention of a different sort. The heart refers to so much more than the blood-pumping organ in the middle of our chest. It is also the center of our feelings and emotions, as well as our spiritual connection with others. If we treat our child’s hurt heart as a question to be answered when the source of the pain is emotional, we may send them away with the assurance everything will soon be okay but also feeling they haven’t been heard. We feel we have solved a problem when in fact we have simply avoided addressing a dilemma that might have been better addressed with open-ended, loving compassion and companionship that assures the child whatever they are going through need not be suffered alone. If the child’s heart stops hurting it will be because the pain has been repressed and not because the pain was honored.
When facing a challenge we must first determine if it is a question needing an answer or a dilemma calling for reflection. The first is closed-ended. The latter must remain open, and we do well to attain a level of comfort with unresolvable challenges, particularly as we age. The deeper we enter spiritual dimensions the more abundant those mysterious challenges become. One of the more difficult lessons in relationships, at least for me, is remembering that when a partner presents a concern, they may or may not be looking for a solution. Hint: If they are, they will usually ask. Many times they are seeking companionship in their dilemma – a listening ear, an understanding heart, an attentive mind…and a closed mouth. Such dilemmas are not something to be answered so we can move on to whatever is next, but something to be acknowledged, valued, and heard.
And this is our dilemma with churchianity where so much of God’s nature is treated as a question we can answer or a problem we can solve by saying the right prayer or memorizing the right scripture. An example is saying we can save ourselves from Hell by proclaiming Jesus as our Lord and Savior. It may be implied biblically, and it may answer a question, but it is wholly inadequate for building a Christian life. God is not seeking cookie-cutter Christians ready with quick and easy answers to life’s dilemmas. God is seeking life-long companions and followers, those who will stand with the suffering, come alongside the oppressed, those who are capable of companioning even when there are no easy, apparent, or quick solutions. Building a relationship with God is similar, in some ways, to building human relationships in that we must be prepared to respond in appropriate ways and not simply answer. Learning to be comfortable with dilemmas without clear or quick answers is an important lesson in responding appropriately. When we try to force answers onto paradoxical situations we miss the mark, which is one definition of sin. Sometimes we do better to learn to accept and acknowledge unresolved tension, focusing our efforts on accompanying suffering instead of moving on because we cannot eliminate it.
When we dig beneath the surface of our materially-focused, Western lives, we find a whole lot of issues buried under our comfort-seeking, tension-avoiding ways. Just because we can reduce many dilemmas to problems or questions does not mean we should. In reality, as with a child with a hurt heart, we may simply push the dilemma into subconscious arenas where it will resurface, often in a more difficult form and often hurting more hearts in the process.
Obviously, some dilemmas require a quick and appropriate response. When someone tells us they’re hungry we should feed them and not begin an internal debate about whether the person is suffering from a physical or a spiritual hunger or question what they will do with the food or money we give them. Again, sometimes an appropriate response is quick and easy. Other times, however, an appropriate response is a life-long process.
This is the 35th in the series of Life Notes titled Churchianity vs Christianity. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning and browse the archives of my Life Notes, Podcasts, music, books, and other musings.