Unsolvable Problems and the Presence of God

It’s been over a decade, but I still remember one particular trip to my optometrist. I sat in the waiting room, flipping through outdated magazines. Across the room from me sat a teenager with special needs and an older man who appeared to be his grandfather. The younger man was engrossed in a puzzle book, Sudoku puzzles to be exact. He would work on a puzzle, solve it, turn the page and begin again. It was clear that he enjoyed the activity. He was well into the book and moving quickly through the puzzles, when something changed. A clear sense of discomfort registered in his eyes and his body tensed. He rubbed his forehead and focused again on the page in front of him. The book’s next puzzle didn’t operate by the same rules that the others had. What had just moments before brought him comfort was now a source of stress. The confidence he enjoyed had disappeared into self-doubt. I wasn’t the only one to notice this change, his grandfather recognized that something was amiss and leaned over to glance at the puzzle his grandson was working on. When he realized that this young man that he loved was stumped, he began to slowly and patiently explain how the new puzzle worked. The boy didn’t understand at first, the panic hadn’t worn off and was affecting his ability to think clearly. But as the grandfather continued to calmly talk through the problem, the young man’s body relaxed. The numbers began to connect and a comprehending smile stretched across his face.

Sitting there that day, I related immediately to the teenage boy. I had developed tactics to deal with the predictable challenges of life that allowed me to feel comfortable. But life isn’t always predictable. When old answers no longer satisfy new questions, doubt creeps in. In those moments I’m not just left with a difficult puzzle to solve, but with questions about my ability to solve it. It’s in those moments that God slowly and patiently speaks to my heart, walking me through the unfamiliar challenge.  His patience overcomes my panic and I’m able to face the problem in front of me.

Now, ten years later, I also relate to the grandfather. I aspire to be as patient and relational as he was that day. When my young son stumbles into a problem that feels bigger than he is, my first instinct is to plough the path clear ahead of him. Perhaps what he needs most isn’t always a clear path, but a patient guide willing to walk the path with him until things make sense again.

That’s what God does for us. He doesn’t normally wipe away all of our problems with one large swipe of his arm. Rather, he joins us, step by step, as we face new challenges and develop strength and wisdom we hadn’t known before. Like everyone else, I enjoy it when I have the right answers and know the best path forward, but when answers aren’t forthcoming and the path is hidden from sight, I am grateful that I am loved by a God that is bigger my understanding. Someone who walks with me, patiently expanding my horizons, even when it’s uncomfortable.

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2 thoughts on “Unsolvable Problems and the Presence of God

  1. I absolutely love this, Michael! I can relate to it well, and I realize, that over the years, looking back, that has been the story of my life: finding ways to cope that I became comfortable in, then being called on to move ahead into new dilemmas, “new” answers. I am so grateful for God’s presence, walking through it all with me, one step at a time. Thanks for sharing your insight.

  2. I’ve always been a positive, confident (maybe even at times arrogant) person. However, this attitude can frequently cause me to lean on my own abilities more than seeking God’s help and guidance. Sometimes though, I am brought down by unforeseen circumstances that can totally change my world view. I can feel like the boy with the puzzle. I find in these times that I feel alone and broken. Thank you for reminding me that God is always there and can lead me out of those desperate times.

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