Just give me the formula!

Years ago, in another lifetime, I was a maths teacher. What can I say? I like the order of numbers, the known outcome - there is an answer that is right. Maths can be comforting in its safety of black and white. 

One of the struggles my students had with me (and I with them!) was that they would say to me, "Just tell me how to do it, just give me the answer." They too wanted the safety and simplicity of the known and predictable. What I wanted for them was to understand the process, the underlying methodology and reasoning, because when they grasped  that, I knew they could apply it to other problems and scenarios. Hopefully they could recognise problems that were similar and extend what they already knew and understood into new problems and new scenarios.

Wanting a simple answer is not just confined to the classroom, though. Perhaps it is a quintessential part of being human. I am reminded of Arthur Dent in the "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" series asking for the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything (and finding it is 42!), or the Israelites at Sinai telling Moses, "Just tell us what to do so God won't smite us, and we will do it, but having a relationship with God where we need to listen to Him is just too scary for us." (Exodus 20:19)

There was a desire for a formulated way of living, without having to get involved in the mess and uncertainty of relationship.

I think we tend to transpose this way of thinking into our own lives when we hit tough times, when we come across a problem: "God, just tell me the answer, tell me what steps to take to produce the outcome I want". 

I was confronted by my own desire for this more recently. In discussing something going on in my life, a friend suggested a message she had found really helpful that came with a process which, in turn seemed  to promise a secured outcome. I dutifully watched the teaching, went through the process and waited for the outcome. Which didn't happen - at least not as I was hoping! 

Reflecting on this and seeking God in the midst of this, I realised, again, that while process can be helpful and good, there are many times in life and relationships when the cookie cutter method will not produce cookie cutter results. But why?

Part of the problem is that although my issue, my difficulty may have all the hallmarks of being the same as yours, when people are involved there will always be differences. We are different. Our experiences are different. Our journey and what we need to learn for it and from it are different. We may be heading for the same thing (being closer to God), but we also may be coming from entirely different directions, complete with different landscapes and challenges. One size will never fit all.

There is a part of our make up, though, that continues to chase after the tried and true method. It is why advertising is so powerful and effective: "Got this problem? Our product is the answer and we can prove it - look at all these people." 

We do it in church as well: "Got this problem? Just read your Bible more/pray more/journal more/be part of a home group/go to this conference/read this book/hear this speaker/follow that teaching. All of these things have their place and may be helpful. But the problem comes when we choose process over relationship. We tell God we want a guaranteed outcome with minimum effort or pain. But in relationship, free will (our own or others') can trip up the best laid plans.

And even using a cookie cutter my cookies rarely look exactly the same, and definitely don't look like yours, so why should I expect that with the rest of life?

So I come back again and I choose relationship, with all its mess and unpredictability, over process. I will allow God to be God. I will have faith in His great wisdom, His vision, His understanding and knowledge of what is best. I will take the path that is my own, rather than the tried and not always universally true path of others. I will wait and hold on, even though there are no guarantees I see today, and even though today, again, it all looks wrong. I will again lean not on my own understanding, I will submit to Him and I will trust Him to make my path level.

"Trust in Adonai with all your heart; and do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him; and He will level your paths."

(Prov 3:5,6 Complete Jewish Bible)