For lots of folks, avoiding problems is their main coping strategy. In fact, for many, life is all about avoidance: avoiding certain people, avoding certain subjects, avoiding thinking about how things are going, avoiding thinking of family issues. You name it, and we avoid it.
But is this a good way to maneuver through life? Not likely. The comfort provided by such a life strategy may be called “couch potato comfort,” the comfort that comes from minimal risk, and minimal effort. But it leaves you fat, flabby, and fatigued.
This is no recipe for the good life. Instead, it’s the existential equivalent of cotton candy: it may amuse you and taste good, but such a diet will kill you, and before that, it will kill your joy.
We were made for better than this.
The Torah reading from Shabbat Pinchas provides a different model. Five sisters decide to confront a problem no one had ever confronted before. And as a result they made the entire community stronger and more aware. Here is the story from the twenty seventh chapter of Bamidbar, the Book of Numbers
27 Then drew near the daughters of Zelophehad the son of Hepher, son of Gilead, son of Machir, son of Manasseh, from the clans of Manasseh the son of Joseph. The names of his daughters were: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. 2 And they stood before Moses and before Eleazar the priest and before the chiefs and all the congregation, at the entrance of the tent of meeting, saying, 3 “Our father died in the wilderness. He was not among the company of those who gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korah, but died for his own sin. And he had no sons. 4 Why should the name of our father be taken away from his clan because he had no son? Give to us a possession among our father’s brothers.”
5 Moses brought their case before the Lord. 6 And the Lord said to Moses, 7 “The daughters of Zelophehad are right. You shall give them possession of an inheritance among their father’s brothers and transfer the inheritance of their father to them. 8 And you shall speak to the people of Israel, saying, ‘If a man dies and has no son, then you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter. 9 And if he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. 10 And if he has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. 11 And if his father has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to the nearest kinsman of his clan, and he shall possess it. And it shall be for the people of Israel a statute and rule, as the Lord commanded Moses.’”Numbers 27:1-11
There are three lessons to be gained here.
- Bravery – You will notice that the five daughters of Zelophehad bravely come forward and confront the leaders of Israel with a problem. In that culture it was exceedingly rare for women to confront men with alleged faults or omissions. But these five daughters knew that they had a problem, one that concerned the honor of their father, their family, and their descendants. They faced the problem and took it to Moses and the leaders of Israel, who likewise faced the problem.
- Creativity – New problems require finding new solutions, new ways of thinking, and creativity. This is what God passes on to Moses and the leaders of Israel: a new and creative response to a problem formerly ignored.
- Empowerment – As a result of facing the problem and finding a new perspective and solution, all of Israel was strengthened by being equipped to handle this kind of situation should it come up.
So what are the lessons we learn for our own lives? Three of them:
- Be brave enough to look at your problem areas. Don’t avoid them: examine them.
- Prayerfully seek to find new creative approaches to deal with the problems you find. If past solutions have not worked, find new ones. If the problem has never been confronted, confront it. If nothing changes, nothing changes, but when things change, new possibilities open up. So confront your situations and through creative and prayerful process, seek to be a change agent, bringing new possibilities to birth through new perspectives and new solutions.
- Pay attention to how life becomes more free, how fresh air blows through your life when you confront problems and explore new solutions. You will find yourself energized in the process.
Learn to value facing problems. Doing so provides opportunities for change.
Give it a try. And if your first solution doesn’t work try another, and another, and another. You are sure to learn something each time, and things will get better, not worse.
But one thing is for sure: in the process of doing something about your problem areas, no matter what it is, you will feel energized and more alive.
Which would you rather be? A couch potato? Or a change agent?
I think we both know the answer to that one!
Here at Interfaithfulness, we specialize in solving spiritual and relational problems at the intersection of the Jewish and Christian worlds. We help people find new perspectives and to explore new possibilities for their spiritual and relational lives.
If you want help getting off the couch and into problem-solving, let’s talk and we’ll see if together we might find a way forward.
If that interests you, then we invite you to make an appointment at https://www.interfaithfulness.org/the-doctor-is-in/