I’m calling it the Pre-K paradox. On the day my daughter turned four, she discovered a new-found independence. Suddenly she can dress herself, brush her teeth without supervision, and set her own place at the table. (I’m gleefully harnessing this enthusiasm by teaching her to use the dustbuster and empty the dishwasher.) Conversely, on that same birthday a new phrase entered her vocabulary: ‘I can’t.’ In the strange way the universe works, on any given morning she can get up, make her sister a hat, build a functional car out of blocks, and then make her own breakfast- but she simply can’t put on her shoes.
I had one of these moments of perplexed desperation this week while in our local superstore. She had danced around with our shopping list for nearly an hour, filling the cart with necessary items and accurately re-shelving the unnecessary ones she’d brought along too. But when it was time to leave, she couldn’t possibly walk to the register. “I just can’t, mummy,” she declared.
There, in the middle of the arts and crafts aisle as she was about to flop herself on the floor in feigned exhaustion, inspiration struck. I grabbed a nearby foam hat and a bag of sparkly stars, and brought about the dawn of a new era. I explained to her that the hat was no ordinary one, it was a problem-solving hat. She could only wear it if she was willing to try and solve a problem- and if she succeeded, she could decorate the hat with a star.
It worked. Somewhere within her she found the energy to walk to the register, and then wore her hat proudly to the car. We’ve used the hat to help her discover her own inner resources, from problems as simple as cleaning up a spill to the complexity of resolving conflict with her sister. She’s discovering what I saw in her all along: she always had the creativity to tackle a challenge, she just didn’t know it.
We’re going to need a bigger hat.
I wonder if that’s what the Psalmist was feeling as he penned Psalm 77 . He starts out pretty low, literally crying out to God for help. In the middle of the Psalm he rallies, reminding himself, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.” What comes next is a beautifully descriptive narrative of God’s power and faithfulness.
Why is it that some of our most profound creativity appears when we are facing a challenge? I once knew a youth pastor who would literally plan a problem into every retreat she organized. The bus would break down, or they’d get lost. It became a running joke for her youth group- “Remember the time when…” What her group didn’t realize is that they were doing exactly what she had hoped they would: they were remembering a time when they stepped out of their norm, faced a problem, and grew closer together as a group.
Sadly as adults we don’t get problem solving hats. Maybe we don’t spend enough time recognizing our own efforts to tackle the challenges we face- or maybe we just don’t even try. I remember my first few months in England, desperately waiting for the rain to stop so I could go outside. It didn’t take me long to realize that with that kind of thinking I’d never leave the house- and in the end, a little rain didn’t do any harm. By staying in I wasn’t able to get out and do the things I wanted to- was passionate about- was created to do.
Lately it’s occurring to me: can solving a challenge, using my God-given gifts, doing what I was created to do- can that be a form of worship in itself? There’s a song we sing in worship which sums it up poignantly, “And though my heart is torn, I will praise You in the storm.” Perhaps one of the most simple, direct ways to acknowledge our Creator is to pick ourselves up and use the unique gifts which He knew we had all along.
After a busy few days of problem solving, our family is having some much-needed down time together this weekend. Outside it’s gray and wet- a welcome break from the August heat. I think we’ll go play in the rain.
Here is a worship activity to try: Tackle a challenge that’s facing you this week. In a quiet moment make a list of the things you learned, or the gifts you’ve been given that helped you, and give thanks. For a group or family activity, do a puzzle or challenge together and then take time to recognize what each person in the group contributed. Share your reflections with each other, and give thanks. Or you could go outside with and umbrella and talk about times when God helped you face something hard. Remember to tell us how it went in the comments below!