This is a quote that I have ‘borrowed’ from a lovely young woman who writes about her struggles with eating disorders. Thankfully, I do not struggle with eating disorders, but struggles are struggles and I find wisdom for one usually applies as wisdom for all. This quote refers to her approach to mastering jigsaw puzzles, and I know what she says is true. But I also believe her wisdom applies to many of life’s ‘puzzles.’
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Take medicine, for example; I believe the wisest physicians treat the symptoms…the outer edges of a disorder…first. Symptoms can often mask or distort the identity of the underlying cause or source of dis-ease. For example, my elderly dog, Stella, injured her back. We don’t know how and we couldn’t determine exactly where or to what extent; we just knew that she was in pain and did not want to move or walk. My son scooped her up in a blanket and carried her to the vet. The vet could have taken the approach of having x-rays and MRI’s done with the ultimate intent of doing surgery. Instead, the wise physician (veterinarian) chose to treat the outer edge…her pain. He gave Stella a morphine injection which blocked her feeling of pain which allowed her to relax and soften her seized up muscles which in turn allowed a dislocated or mis-aligned portion of her spine to settle back into place. The dis-ease disappeared.
I think the same approach is wise in many of life’s thorniest problems. I have written a lot about poverty, homelessness, and ignorance. I am not revealing wisdom that is not already better stated in scripture,
If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? (see the book of James)
but I will address the issue here, anyway. There are many underlying reasons for; if not causes of; poverty, homelessness, and ignorance but the wise will address the outer edges first, namely food, pain relief, and shelter. I will not argue against the wise adage that if you
Give a man a fish, he will eat for a day; teach him how to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime. (with thanks to Anne Isabella Ritchie, 1885)
However, I suggest the man will pay closer attention, will learn more, and will learn better on a somewhat full stomach. Likewise, it is difficult to learn from your mistakes, or the mistakes of your parents, if you are so hungry or cold or in pain that you cannot see straight.
Besides, some underlying causes of homelessness and poverty involve mental illness, substance abuse (or past substance abuse), and other forms of abuse or neglect. I am not qualified to address those issues; I have tried to be a healing minister but, as yet, have never helped in that way. But I do know how to feed people.
Another way I know how to help at the edges, is to listen to people. Historically, I have been a poor listener; I interrupted while others were talking and got distracted composing my come-back or next point. I probably missed numerous opportunities to help by not picking up on nuances of what the other person was really saying. Plus, being listened to…and heard…can be healing and beneficial, in and of itself.
Edges first…then work your way in.
The second half of that profound puzzle approach makes me think of the need to establish trust. Before anyone can enter a secure area, such as a military base or a compound, one must first provide guards with proof or evidence that you can be trusted to behave properly when you enter. The fences, gates, and guards are on the outer edges, and you must pass through those edges to get to the important stuff…what is inside.
Inside stuff is, for example, feelings, emotions, judgement, impressions, convictions, beliefs, courage, faith. These inside things are what must be employed to change your circumstances.
If people’s lives are to be changed, you must take care of the immediate needs, listen, and establish trust (working on the edges) before you can work your way in to alter feelings, beliefs, courage, and faith.
And that’s how Jesus did it. He fed the people, healed their dis-eases, listened to them, and then He taught them how to change their lives.