Everyone loves to solve a problem. People, however, are not problems.
Now I love a good project as much as the next person, but people are not projects.
People are people.
Ground-breaking, I know. Read on for more life-changing truths.
Here's the thing about treating people like projects or problems to be solved: they misbehave. With humanity, one plus one rarely equals two, and to treat it as such is reductionist and trite. And rarely right (I like to rhyme).
It's all very inconvenient, and nothing like Extreme Makeover in which the people projects happily submit to being nipped, tucked and sewn back together for their own benefit. In real life, people move. You try to change them and - slippery little suckers - they move! They change on their own, and not always in the way you were planning.
It's very difficult, especially if you're in the habit of playing God. It's a game that starts at childhood, 'playing God'. They give us Barbie dolls and tell us to design their lives, and we think "Oh, we're the supreme power" because we are in that world, the world that consists of us and us alone, with our Barbie doll minions and standard equations. But then we grow up a little and life slaps us with some complications. Like friends.
Friends teach us some wonderful lessons, namely that you can't pull someone's hair and get away with it, and if you hurt someone's feelings they're probably going to want to hurt you back or not be your friend (depending on how aggressive they are). They also teach you that people are people (yet another ground-breaking truth), not toys, and we should treat them as such.
So next time you're tempted to treat someone as if they are a problem, think again, friend. There's a lot more going on than what meets the eye, which is why I like Jesus' approach. He would see a broken arm and heal a broken heart. The root problem is where he brings solution – healing is a bonus!
Problem solver not the problem
The problem solver (the well-meaning though potentially misguided individual) is not the problem. Sin is the problem. It lurks inside all of us, it is the tool by which people hurt each other and though the wounds with which we are inflicted do need a helping hand to heal, it is the approach we take which can make all the difference.
Because the problem-solver approach sees the person as an equation, it fails to take into account the complex beauty of humanity – surely we are all fearfully and wonderfully made, and restoration starts in the soul not in the outcome.
Now I am not proposing we all walk on eggshells around each other, waiting for permission to speak and trying not to help people for fear of hurting them - that is the opposite problem, one that will not solve the first. I am instead pointing out the difference between removing shrapnel with a pick axe or a scalpel. As you can imagine, one approach is a little more heavy handed.
Jesus was the master healer and he was not afraid to call people out – a certain 5-times-married-now-living-with-another-man lady got more than she bargained for when she asked him to pass the water ("Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life").
We can be tools of each other's healing as long as we do it with love. Love is patient and kind. It doesn't seek self-fulfilment in solving the problems of others, but genuinely seeks the truth that will set another free. It protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres, and even honours the people who others see as problems.
Because if people are the problem, we are.
Grace Mathew is a Sydney-based writer, speaker and presenter.
Grace's archive of articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/grace-mathew.html