Show your work

I was thinking about math yesterday.

Now, I’m an English person, so I think about math approximately zero times per day. In fact, I actively avoid thinking about math because I’m convinced it gives me hives. I know why letters are in sentences. I do not know why letters are in math problems. Whoever thought it was a good idea to let them mingle was sorely mistaken.

Do you remember math textbooks from school? The ones with pages and pages of comprehension questions at the end of every chapter…and the answers in the back of the book? When I first learned about this phenomenon, I thought it must be a mistake. Why would anyone put the answers in the back of the book? Isn’t that just asking people to cheat?

But then the fine print kicked in on the instructions clause: Show your work. 

Dang it.

It prevented the math-challenged (and integrity-challenged) from flipping to the back of the book and writing down the answers alone. There had to be some semblance of groundwork displayed to show how you arrived (or attempted to arrive) at the answer.

I think more often than not, I pray for answers to spontaneously appear in the back of the book of my life. I pray for my husband and a job opportunity and a geographic location and hope that God will show me where the answers are in the back of the book so I can write them down, turn in my homework, get an A, and call it a day.

I don’t want to do the work in between reading the question and knowing the answer.

But that didn’t work for math, and it won’t work for life, either. The only way to understand how to solve a math problem is to successfully do the work needed to arrive at an answer. If I just looked up the answer in the back of the book and wrote it down without doing any work I wouldn’t understand how to solve the problem. I wouldn’t get any credit for the assignment. And when it came time to take the test, I wouldn’t have the slightest idea how to arrive at the correct answer.

I know that God has the answer key to every problem I can’t solve in life. And I wish, at times desperately and pathetically, that He’d just show me the answer key so I can write down all of the answers to the questions I have on my own comprehension check. But if I had the answers, I wouldn’t have to do the work it takes to arrive at them the right way. The kind of work Paul talks about in Romans 5:3-5:

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Doing the work required to get to the answer is the only way to know how to answer the question correctly – that time and every time in the future. That work sometimes looks like relying on the Lord, working through hurts and hang ups, taking risks, developing and/or ending relationships, making hard decisions. It’s work we probably wouldn’t do otherwise if we already had all of the answers. But it’s often the hard work of arriving at the answer that is so much more beneficial to us than the answer itself. And it’s the hard work that sets us up for success the next time we need to answer a question we don’t quite understand.

God knows this. And loves us too much to let us skip the work part.

So instead of praying for the answers, I’m going to try to remember that the instructions on God’s test are the same as the instructions on my old math homework:

Show your work. 

It made me a better math student, and I bet it will make me a better student of what God’s doing in my life, too.

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