If there’s one thing I miss about primary school, it’s maths. I loved those exercise sheets you were given with a long list of maths problems. Clearly I was a nerd, I’m not disputing that.
They came to mind yesterday as I was listening to a great word from Ps Sam Monk at the ACTS Europe conference. He was talking about how in leadership problems are inevitable, but having problems don’t mean you’re in trouble.
I realised that too often my thought process goes something like “oh no, a problem, I must be doing something wrong.” When problems are a sign that you’re moving forward, extending your capacity, actually doing something. The trough might be dirty, but that’s because you’ve got oxen, so count yourself blessed (Prov 14:4).
It’s the problems that grow you – just like those maths problems are set to test your knowledge and help you practice your skills. You just work your way through them, one after the other.
If you’ve got the strategies you need to solve those equations, it can be a satisfying exercise, joyful even. And if you don’t have the strategies, if you don’t know how? Someone can teach you, just ask. But if you’re lacking confidence, if maths scares you, if you’ve always told yourself it’s something you can’t do, then that exercise sheet is intimidating.
It reminds me of Jesus’ words to his disciples in John 14:1
Don’t let your hearts be troubled
You might be facing problems, but you’re not in trouble.
If you tend towards perfectionism, then problems can be particularly threatening, because they appeal to that underlying narrative: I need to do all the things well, and all without breaking a sweat. And if I can’t do them, or it’s too hard, then something is wrong, and that wrong thing is me.
You don’t need to do all the things easily, there’s nothing wrong with struggling your way through a few problems. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help. And *gasp* if you made a few mistakes, that would be OK too.
We’re not in primary school any more: there’s no red pen, no mark out of 100, no standardised test scores, no pass or fail. There’s still problems, but they’re there to grow you, not assess you.