VIEW VIDEO These past few years, since her husband became disabled, I’ve been doing the upkeep on my sister’s home. It’s a well-built home, built in the 1960s of Bedford limestone, but was nearly ruined by the previous owner who fancied himself an expert on home repair and set about wrecking the house by fixing things himself instead of hiring competent tradesmen to make the necessary repairs, so nothing works as it should.
The water at the kitchen sink is turned on by flushing the toilet in the master bedroom. The garage door is raised by turning on the garbage disposal, and the sump pump is in the attic. In the 20 years my sister has lived there, they’ve been gradually correcting the mistakes of the previous owner. I was thinking about all this last Sunday while mowing her lawn. Specifically about the human penchant for overestimating our ability to fix things.
I have a friend who purchased a vintage motorcycle, confident he could restore it. He knew I rode motorcycles so phoned me before he bought it to ask whether he should buy it. I asked if he had any experience restoring motorcycles and he laughed and said he’d never even ridden a motorcycle. I advised him to pass on it, but he bought it anyway, took it apart, but now can’t figure out how to put it back together, so it’s rusting away in boxes in his backyard shed.
But this isn’t a sermon on poorly executed home maintenance or motorcycle restoration. Fascinating subjects, to be sure, but they are just symptoms of the problem, which is our tendency to resist expertise and guidance, not just when our things are broken, but more importantly when our lives are broken. I was speaking with a woman last week whose life is in shambles and has been for some time. She is overwhelmed, angry, and stuck, unable to deal with life’s challenges in a constructive and curative way but refuses to see a therapist.
“I’ve read books about therapy. I know what they’ll say,” she tells me.
She works in the field of information technology, so I asked her what she did when her computer stopped working.
She said she phoned the tech support person at her company. I asked her why she didn’t just fix her computer herself. She said, “I don’t know how to.”
Well, there you go.
That’s my problem, too. When my life feels broken, I don’t always know how to fix myself, either. Sometimes a motorcycle ride or a walk in the woods will cure what ails me, but sometimes it doesn’t, and my efforts to fix myself usually don’t end well. We must choose our medicine carefully.
In his later years, my father’s solution to aging and depression was alcohol, which made him neither younger nor happier. I have a childhood friend who decided to solve his anxiety by becoming religious. Within a short time, he went from being anxious to obnoxious and overbearing. He was happier, but it made his friends and family miserable. I saw him last weekend, and he’s still hard at work fixing himself while simultaneously making others unhappy. We must choose our medicine carefully. The good news is that there are people who have dedicated their lives to enrich our lives. Teachers of wisdom who offer insight, therapists and counselors who help us understand ourselves, so we make better choices, scientists who invent marvelous medicines to cure our physiological and psychological challenges.
I have a friend who for years has entered into a dark funk each autumn, barely making it through winter, tormented by thoughts of suicide. He tried to boost his spirits by reading the Bible every day. It didn’t work. Then he tried prayer, to no avail. He bought a special UV lamp and sat under it for two hours a day. No help whatsoever. One winter he studied Greek and Roman stoicism, which he found interesting, but ultimately unhelpful. His wife finally said, “Enough of this. I’m taking you to the doctor.” He went, but complained the whole time, and informed the doctor he was philosophically opposed to the use of antidepressants. His wife told him she was philosophically opposed to divorce, but that she was seriously contemplating it, so he went on an anti-depressant, and, lo and behold, the sun rose on his life again.
It never hurts to see our lives through someone else’s eyes. This past week, my lawn mower deck broke, one of the brackets holding the deck to the mower frame snapped in two. I tried duct taping it back on, to no avail. So I took it to a local machine shop, where they welded the bracket back onto the deck. When it came time to put the deck back on, I was able to line up the holes and push the bolts through, but I was unable to see where to attach the ring that fastened to the bolt. I couldn’t hold the bolt, hold the deck in place in place, and simultaneously see the far end of the bolt. I tried for about a half hour, even resorting to a few Latin cuss words my sister had learned in freshman Latin. Who says Latin is a dead language?
I finally called my son, who came over and while I held the bolt in place, threaded the ring through the bolt opening. It took all of two minutes. I simply could not see what someone else, looking from a different perspective, could plainly see. That is true for all of us. There are things in our lives and about our lives we lack the vantage point to see. That’s what a good therapist, pastor, or wise friend can do for us. They can help us see what we’re unable to see.
I mention this because in my little town, two young men in the past month have taken their lives. Faced with what they perceived to be insurmountable, unsolvable problems, they didn’t realize someone else, looking at their challenges from a different vantage point, could provide insight, encouragement, and a helping hand.
While it’s true no one can ultimately fix our lives but ourselves, it is also true that we are often poor diagnosticians, unable to see what others so plainly see. Our lives can become like my sister’s house, beset with problems we thought we could fix ourselves.
Do you remember the story in the Bible of the Samaritan women at the well? Jesus asks her for a drink, she points out that he’s Jewish and she’s Samaritan, that he’s a man and she’s a woman.
Jesus said, “If you knew who I was, I would give you living water, and you would never thirst again.”
She asks Jesus to give her living water, so she won’t have to return to the well several times a day. In addition to not understanding metaphor, she also thinks once her water problem is solved, everything else will be fine. We are often poor diagnosticians.
Jesus said, “Water’s not your problem. Your problem is your broken relationships. You’ve had five husbands and the man you’re with now isn’t your husband.”
Sometimes it hurts to see our lives through someone else’s eyes, someone who can view our challenges from a different vantage point, someone who can assist in our healing, lest our lives become broken with problems we thought we could fix ourselves. Sometimes it hurts to have our problems laid bare. But there never was an illness cured without a proper diagnosis, and never a lame person who could rise and walk without a helping hand.