Putting a Problem in Perspective

Big feelings do not necessarily equal big problems.

Posted in , Jun 27, 2017

Sizing up a problem

One memorable day when my daughter was 2, I had an amazing revelation: I didn’t actually need infinite patience. All I needed was one minute more patience than her temper tantrum. This was a life-changing concept, for suddenly my preschooler’s meltdowns were no longer the definition of eternity. I measured the problem, and on average it was 17 minutes long.

“Sizing” a problem in this way turned out to be a technique that was useful in a variety of situations. The seemingly endless delay on the subway was not nearly as agitating when I reminded myself that being late is, after all, only a 30-minute problem. I might not like it, but it was well within my ability to manage.

Similarly, dealing with an argumentative teen was far easier when I recalled that the job at hand was to avoid taking the bait for a matter of 5 or 10 minutes. Whether or not I should “have to” put up with it was irrelevant; a mere 5 minutes of tongue-biting is certainly possible, especially with God’s help, and especially when the alternative is a full-scale blowout. 

1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us that “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.” For me, losing my cool is often a byproduct of falling prey to one of the most common temptations I know: mistaking how things feel for how things are. After all, big feelings aren’t always the same as big problems. Even when a frustration feels endless, often all I’m asked to deal with is a 5 or 10 or 17-minute problem. Knowing that is often enough to get me through. 

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