Fuzzy variables, solving for X, and faith

” Follow these nine steps of content marketing and you can make a $1B business in 12 months!”

“Follow our workout routine for 12 weeks and you’ll be beach -ready by summer!”

“Follow my weekly schedule for ten days and reclaim your productivity”

If you’re looking for it, you can find a methodology that contains anywhere from 3–12 steps to a better marriage, to endless cash flow, to having an obedient pet (even though you know deep down that it won’t happen because you sprung for a chihuahua), to having a balanced diet, or to fixing world hunger, etc.

We all want the steps. We want the method. We want the tracks to be laid out before us.

What we’re trying to do is solve for X, which assumes:

  • there’s a right answer and a wrong answer.
  • the variables can be manipulated to arrive at the right answer.
  • success can be guaranteed.

I, for one, really like clear directions and steps. I don’t like making mistakes. Failure is painful. When I’m working under the hood, I like to know what I’m getting into. When I’m troubleshooting a WordPress issue, I like feeling like I’m smarter than the computer. I want to flip the switch and get to “done.” When I’m in a sticky relationship issue, I want to know exactly what I need to say or do to resolve the issue so everybody is happy.

But most real problems can’t be solved like that. Sure, there are best practices. Of course, there is great wisdom to be gained from those who have lived more life or who have lived before us. Yes, there’s a treasure trove of knowledge in the Bible. But many times, the variables are fuzzy or always changing, and the answers are elusive. Sometimes there’s no clear wrong or right. See for example these verses from Proverbs:

Answer not a fool according to his folly,
lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
lest he be wise in his own eyes.

—Proverbs 26:4–5

So which one is the right answer? Is there some flowchart or matrix that gives me absolute certainty on when I should/should not respond to a fool? The answer is it depends. Living out those verses requires meditating on the whole of Scripture, praying through each unique situation, and listening to what the Holy Spirit says about the matter. Sometimes it involves asking for wise counsel. Sometimes it means going with your gut even if God doesn’t provide a clear answer.

The lines aren’t always black and white.

With each passing year, I have become more and more aware that God wants to take me out of the equation mindset (i.e., if I do ABC then the result will be XYZ). As a husband and father, I’m learning that the variables change frequently. What worked last year doesn’t work now. Sometimes what worked yesterday doesn’t work today. Kids change fast and so do you. Everything is in flux 24/7/365. There is truth in the adage “Change is the only constant.”

Solving for X requires some variables to remain constant, but if the variables are always changing, then the only sane thing to do is to ask whether the equation is valid in the first place.

I’m learning that living the life Jesus offers requires letting go of the “making life work” mentality. It means erasing the equation, ditching the illusion that X can be earned through effort, and saying, “I can’t solve anything, I can only trust You.” In a world where the variables are innumerable and unpredictable, the only recourse is to look to that which is solid and unchanging—God alone.

Twice in Proverbs it is written, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Prov. 14:12 , Prov. 16:25) When the Bible repeats something verbatim across different chapters, it’s basically buying out all the ad real estate in Times Square to say Hey, this is important!

The problem with the self-serve, self-help, on-demand life-fixing stuff from self-styled experts and self-proclaimed gurus is that it boils down to me trying to fix myself on my terms and my conditions without any risk. A lot of it seems right, but there’s a good chance that it leads to death. And here death doesn’t mean giving up the ghost or rigor mortis. It means something deeper. It’s the forfeiture of true life: reunion with God and life everlasting in the presence of Christ. Consider this paradox from Jesus:

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”

—Matthew 16:26

Jesus doesn’t provide a method or a series of steps to make life work. Instead, He says that if we want life, we are to follow Him—wherever that may lead. Real death isn’t merely physical. True life is more than just breathing and heartbeats. The real hope is not to be found in an equation but in a relationship.

And relationship always involves incalculable risk.

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