Personal Problem Solving

Improving Is The Language Of Adults;
Perfection Is The Language of Children

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All have problems. Having them is not anything unusual, abnormal or to be ashamed of. The way to respond to problems is to try to improve the situation. The first thing I would suggest is to remember what I have found to be the motto of successful adult personal problem solving: Improving is the language of adults; perfection is the language of children.

You simply cannot solve personal problems as long as you keep the same attitude or awareness that helped to create them. I find the first step is to heighten your awareness, change your attitude, move to a higher level of vision or whatever you wish to call the attainment of a newer view of the situation.

Scrooge is a perfect if exaggerated example known so widely most can relate to him. Nobody liked him. His attitude of greed had led him down the wrong path. He was not thrifty, a good thing, but he was parsimonious, a bad thing. The ghosts of Christmas who came calling had to move him to a higher level of awareness, change his attitude, transport him to a different level of vision, re-orient him, reform him, convert him or whatever you may wish to designate it a change of outlook. But Scrooge's view point in life was a literal and one dimensional exercise in greed before everything and anything or anyone. He could not change his methods or strategies or solve his personal problem as long as greed was the one and only way he approached life.

In the same way if you hate your husband or wife, your life, your situation, your job, your business, your mother-in-law, your boss, yourself, no matter how difficult these characters may be, you are not going to solve any problem concerning them until you change the attitude in which you helped to create the problem. Certainly, you did not create all the problem yourself, but probably a part of it. Or your attitude encouraged the problem. Since a dream visit of three literary ghosts is not likely to happen to you, a change of heart or a more transcendent view may be a difficult thing for you to do, but it must be done.

Prayer, Bible study, magnifying the redeeming qualities, good readings in healthy literature all may help you as means to change your views. It may not be easy, but your must remember to claim the "perseverance of the saints." You and God can and will improve this thing. Do not let the personal problem make you negative or bitter or confirm you in sourness. Reread Philippians 4: 4-19 and Colossians 2: 1- 8 until your mind is pleased to be better conformed to His mind and your attitudes knit along with God.

As your point of view on things changes, and it is to be hoped far away from self-pity, hate and blame, your awareness should become more transcendent. Then it is time to go over in your mind the realistic strategies open to you to cope with the problem. You may find you can use one or a combination of methods or strategies along with your new and refreshed attitude to the problem- situation you wish to improve. You may not find the right method the first time or second time or even third time. Remember Rome was not built in a day. Read First Thessalonians 5:21 ( prove things-hold fast to that which is good.)

Please beware of falling into fantasies and idealized fabrications so you expect things like "living happily ever after." That will come only in heaven. We live in a fallen world. Since we are earthbound, we must work with others and alongside God for our happiness and that of others. We must endeavor idealistically in aim but work with practical and realistic strategies. Use methods that will cut through to the bone of things as surgeons do.

Scrooge was quite unfortunate in that he did not even realize he had a devastating problem until after he was changed by ghostly external events from past times he did not really wish to recall. This can also happen when people are awakened to real life by a marriage or by a baby or a death or a disease or an accident. Then people see a problem they weren't aware of.

You are indeed wise and fortunate as well as in a state of grace if you realize on your own you have a problem such as alcoholism, dope, a strained marriage or a tense family that needs a solution. You then have a head start on working the problem out before it slaps you with a tragedy. A word to the wise should be sufficient to get you going.

After Scrooge's Christmas change of heart, he adopted a new strategy: being generous. This was not a strategy he seems particularly to have spent time considering but an obvious strategy that mastered him after his change of heart. Sometimes a change of heart can so master you that you do not have to consider your strategy. You know it and do it.
Scrooge's problem of being so selfish that he was widely held in moral contempt was solved by Scrooge's new awareness of life after the three ghosts. Then he found his new strategy of generosity. His new method was to give to others truly in need. He found to be true 2 Corinthians 9: 7 ( for God loveth a cheerful giver.) So did others. Hooray. Hooray. Scrooge's problem seems solved.

But I suggest Scrooge's problems were not completely solved but alleviated. However, who cares to quibble? He could now live contentedly with others and they with Him. Here is improvement if not perfection.

Scrooge became human, an achievement in a de-humanizing world, but he hardly became a perfect man. My guess is Scrooge still went growling about business to the office every day and demanded a great deal of attention from rabbit-like Bob Cratchet. Scrooge also certainly must have remained dense as a rock. I don't think I ever read of a slower mind in picking up the morally obvious. It took a dead partner appearing to rattle a chain of past sins a mile long to shake him. It also took as well a three separate dream visits of ghosts complete with a phantom cast of nearly everyone he ever knew to get an obvious and simple moral point across to the man: he was selfish.

As you are blessed in receiving your new vision and awareness of things from different sources than Scrooge's, emotions may tend to swell your heart. This is quite nice. Always be thankful to God and give Him praise. But be cautious that you are ruddered by realism in your goal of how to transform things and your method of doing it.

Remember perfection is good aim at any time you are starting something new, but it is really not sustainable in this lifetime as John Calvin pointed out very wisely in his writings on the nature of sinful man. (Here let silly liberals shilly-shally, kick and scream. I find when I pull John Calvin out of the closet of time he still fits well today on many occasions and still bravely shows us overlooked Biblical truths we might prefer to avoid.) A new awareness and a realistic change of strategy after a change of heart will improve things but nothing is going to be perfect.

Of course no one should set out carelessly to allow mistakes but we should realize some defects and mistakes will surface before any effort is over. This knowledge helps us not to be cast down and discouraged, giving up and running when things are found to be imperfect as things will. There will be human flaws. Such is the mischief making finiteness in the nature of our humanity that often agonizes and hurts but sometimes can delight us and make us laugh at moral ironies. And as for me, I suggest learning to laugh at the minor and live with them rather than ruining your life hating and despising the inevitable.
But the real and ultimate question about the success of your problem solving will be this: Has there been enough overall improvement in your situation that you can live with things not in total happiness, which is largely reserved for heaven, but contentedly enough to co-exist? Remember Philippians 4: 11. (I have learned in whatever state... therewith to be content. ) The key phrase is "therewith to be content."

The Apostle probably could have been content with anything. But most of us are not as strong in character as the Apostle. The idea is then to bring the problem up to a level "wherewith we may be content."

Then we have probably not eliminated completely the personal problem bothering us, but we have (through the grace of God) brought the problem up to a more desirable level of livability. Remember successful members of Alcoholics Anonymous who have given up problem drinking still can't drink alcohol. They still need to go to AA meetings and acknowledge the need of a supportive God in their lives. Their problem drinking has been brought up to a sustainable level of livability far better than when they were drinking heavily and steadily. They have improved. Remember: Improving is the language of adults; perfection is the language of children.

However, Alcoholics Anonymous does offer a very good example of the entire personal problem solving effort I suggest. If you have developed a drinking problem, you must change your attitude. Formerly you thought drinking alcohol cute or socially necessary. You cannot solve it with the attitude that created it. You must begin to see compulsive drinking in a new light as threatening to ruin your life. Then your change of view achieved, you must adopt a strategy to solve the problem.

The strategy of AA is composed primarily of a fusion of strategies: 1.) You realize you need God and others to help you give alcohol up. 2.) You need to attend meetings. 3) You must be careful not to fall back.

I can give you another example of a woman who similarly used this process. She had been married some years and had a family. She realized one day she found her husband irritating in everything he did. She disliked him intensely. She felt she wanted a divorce. First she decided to follow the problem solving process. She took the steps seriously. She found a way to see her husband in a different light. She tried to see him only as the father of her children. She could take him better in this light.

Then she had to admit he wasn't a very good father. So she arrived at her first strategy attempt. She worked all this out with her best friend who was a sound and stable confidante. The wife signed up her husband and herself for a series of parenting courses. They went together. Then she had her husband attend a "Dad's Course" (a course in father parenting given to fathers only and taught by older fathers in a local church.) At the end of this course she laid down the law in a very nice non-confrontational way that Dad had to spend three hours each week alone with their children. She did not feel she was asking him to do anything he was not trained for.

At first the children did not like this, but as they had an adult paying attention to them, they began to thaw, because children like attention. The father finally relaxed too. Soon they were all actually fond of each other. The children began to want Dad around so Mom wanted him around. Somewhere she read the true enough statistics that 85 percent of all people in prison were raised with no fathers in the house. I think this helped to change the mother's attitude further. Last time I heard the couple were still together. Their children were doing better also. Certainly everything was not perfect but the mother was content.

I suggest seeking solutions to solve pressing personal problems. Usually when things come to me, they are so bad that trying a solution can't really make things worse. This type of thing sometimes works in groups. I advise informal same sex groups of not over twelve like minded, praying believers who can refrain from gossip about what is discussed. (This may be your first and biggest problem to work on.) People are needed who can talk in the right place and time as well as not talk to or with outsiders in the wrong place and time. (If Jesus did not feel he could handle over twelve in a group, I would not think you might either. Smaller may be better.)

Including couples in a problem solving group can prove difficult because often one's spouse is the problem. These types of groups in my view do not work as well when assigned but do better when grouping together naturally. Remember Philippians 2:12 (work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.)

You should also know if you want to talk personal problem secrets to a reputable clergyman, then begin by asking for confessional silence which even a court must respect. A preacher or priest can't be hauled into court and made to talk about what you said, but others you may know can be.

Footnote or N.B. Cynicism in solving personal problems is caused largely because some people seek an imperfection to justify the enjoyment of their favorite misery i.e. whining. Many prefer an imperfection in their circumstances so they can be martyred and miserable. Oddly enough, many like this pose. Some spouses need an imperfection in their partners so they may feel martyred, miserable and superior. Their theory is: if you want a cross, best make your own to fit your whines. Many of these are unbalanced Christian minds definitely to be wary of. By their whining, you shall know them. My suggestion is avoidance. Never talk to them about private problems.

I also find atheists and secular folk as cynics do justify not believing in God because of some serious imperfection in life they have magnified. These do not wish to consider the the larger and glorious scope of the canvas of life and God's creation and the continuing improvements therein. They fixate or obsess themselves on some uncompleted defect that a healthier Christian mind would not dwell on but leave in faith to God to solve ultimately just as the sane Christian views the larger picture.

The same can be said of the people who criticize church members and there are often some real things to criticize. Congregations are made up of people who have been improved (but not perfected) by Christ through dramatic conversion and/or slower spiritual growth in God and then are working towards high goals through various methods as prayer, preaching, retreats, schools, etc.

(Footnotes ended.)

Is not this Luther's meaning in justification by faith? That we are sinners and not perfect before God, but our viewpoint is so raised and changed by belief in God that we try to work sincerely but imperfectly through various methods and strategies toward the higher spiritual goals of life expressed in Christ Jesus?

It is by our faith and our strategic efforts to prove our faith's existence that we are encouraged by God through grace. So it is by our struggle to improve and not by our perfection that we will be finally judged. It may be in improving, we are perfecting ourselves, but that is never enough, as we are ever destined as normal and human to be sinners who should kneel down before God and ask for grace to improve ourselves and help others.

And if we ask God for grace to believe, work and improve things that are not as they should be, it has been the experience of myriads of believers now and through history, as it has also been my experience that I now share with you: God will gladly give us grace when we ask it of Him, because He loves us all.

Nor in speaking on God's love do I prate in slippery, careless and idle words of meaningless love soon divorced as is the fashion now. God's love was proven true. He was hammered home to Heaven painfully by nails driven through his hands into a rough wooden cross He had been made to carry miles. On it raised high above the ground mankind saw His wounds and was surprised to note that God's ways are not ours and how suffering for others is the way of love.

So after hours hanging on the cross He died for us. Saved we were from ignorance and redeemed from sins and selfishness. God changed hearts and raised minds through this crucifixion to the death. He revealed anew this strategy of suffering love that if left to man alone to discern, we never should have guessed. It is too far above our natural desire to slap and slap back. God showed His love for us in Jesus' death and revealed the method mankind should best employ as suffering love.

Enduring this crucifixion was a wonderful thing, godly and greatly done. We should not be small in our thanks nor forget it easily, but out of gratitude to Christ, and as He commanded us in His Great Commission, we should go out in all the media, as well as through the medium of ourselves, to teach the world, which includes a vast number of brutal and selfish materialists in our own imperfect and shamefully amoral land. We need to share with everyone the undying story, simply told and true, of the bravely dying Jesus and His transcending Love.


Dr. James MacLeod may be contacted through the Neill Macaulay Foundation.