The Arrogance of a Problem Solver

Why did I become a problem solver? The psychological answer is that I grew up in a very unhappy household and observing and trying to figure out how to make it better was my way of coping with the unhappiness. I am an INTJ on Meyers Briggs, a solid introvert with no extraverted tendencies. Sigh… I am a “One” on the Enneagram – perfectionist, control freak.  Sigh… Not an easy road, but I’ve been helpful with those tendencies.  The problem is that I often think its my sole responsibility to solve the problem. And the truth is, problems are only solved if everyone wants to solve them – not just me.

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Problem solving is tricky. On one hand, it is an active response to an unjust situtation. The intention of problem solving is a good thing. The arrogance of problem solving is when one person sees big problems and wants everyone to solve them. But they aren’t interested. The challenge is, what do you do with that situation? Resist? Persist? Or walk away? I tried to just accept in a recent situation and it didn’t work because the problems continued. My biggest fear was falling to the level of the problem and fall I did.  I didn’t take Jesus’ recommendation to shake the dust off one’s heels. I stayed and tried to make it work. It didn’t.

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Commitment is tricky.   There is honorable, mature, faithful commitment. And there is stupid commitment. Sometimes its hard to figure out which is which, and being a Libra – I can always see both sides of the coin. Arggghhh….

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In any case, I have learned that when people aren’t committed to you, its probably not a good idea to commit back!

This last June I took Theology of Ministry. I explored vocation. I learned I have a false sense of vocation – I think stupid commitment is virtuous.

A long time ago when I was a young landscape architect, I was drafting away in an open office with other landscape architects. We were discussing our dream jobs, some of which were quite fanciful. I’ll never forget when Tim McKimmson turned around to me after a particularly flippant comment came out of my immature mouth and said, “when you are given a gift or have a talent, you are responsible to make use of that talent for the good of others.”  I shut up. That one comment has stayed with me and informed my reflections, perspectives and decisions ever since.  John Neafsey echoes my wise professional friend in the opening line of his book A Sacred Voice is Calling.  “Vocation is not only about “me” and my personal fulfillment, but about “us” and the common good.”

In Neafsey’s world we are always in discernment process; listening to ourselves, listening to the world. It is not easy, but by hanging in we can learn to love more deeply and move through our resistances to a more and more authentic life. The theme of interactive responsibility and accountability – to ourselves and to others – is the ying and yang of growth and maturing.

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Most comforting to me is Neafsey’s belief that truth speaks in gentle, loving, life- affirming terms. Vocation is to what our love and passion reaches for, and does not come from obligation. Suffering is not the means or the end to vocation. This doesn’t mean we won’t suffer, but reluctantly moving forward because one believes they have a duty or obligation, and that suffering makes fulfilling that obligation more holy, is probably not an authentic and true discernment. “The first question to consider when discerning whether a path or activity is right for us is whether we experience a sense of joy when we are doing it (or thinking about doing it).”

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And the idea that vocation could be what would really make me happy; well, this is radical thinking for me. I tend to get into hard situations and believe it’s my lot in life – my martyr complex keeps me tolerating intolerable situations.  “Our sense of vocation is intimately linked o the people and things that move us to passion and compassion. We cannot answer the authenticity question, “Who am I?” without also answering the passion question, “What do I really want?”

The wisdom of this book, along with the guidance of an insightful counselor, has helped me understand that I have stayed in situations I needed to tolerate, and not freed myself to do what God is really calling me to do. My resistances to my heart’s calling may have more to do with stepping out of my suffering comfort zone.  By listening to Neafsey and to myself, I am now moving with faith toward what I’m passionate about and what I love to do.

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