“You have to work from the end to the beginning,” he said.
It wasn’t often that my dad got involved with my homework, but for some reason, he saw me struggling and jumped in to rescue me so I could learn a life-changing skill.
He graduated with all F’s, so I am sure this shortcut he was about to show me came from his days of looking for an easy way out. And pure genius that they never would teach you in school.
When you are in first grade, the powers that be want to keep you interested in attending, so the workload is minimal. The love-hate relationship between me and having to sit for hours at a desk hadn’t kicked in at that age yet. I was still eager to show up and try to do the assignments that were sent home.
He saw me moving a pencil across a sheet of paper and erasing. So much erasing and sighing. He knew all the signs of overwhelm.
“What are you doing, Chris?”
He sat down at the table next to me and took the paper so he could see it.
“Are you having trouble with this?”
It was obvious.
“Do you see where it says the word end?”
“Start there. Whenever you do a maze on paper, start at the end and work your way back to the start.”
I looked at it again from a different perspective.
I was following the crowd, and he was telling me not to. I had been so focused on getting to the conclusion and following the instructions that I didn’t realize I could do it any other way. I thought, on some level, it was cheating if I didn’t do it like everyone else was attempting to.
I thought it was written in stone that I had only one way of solving the problem, so it was blocking me from figuring it out.
Having the teacher say,
“I’m sending you home with a puzzle to solve,” was another mental obstacle.
Even then, I was sensitive to words and their impression on me. One phrase or sentence can emotionally impact me subconsciously, and I have to discern whether it’s the truth or not. I didn’t realize I had this “gift” then.
I automatically visualize when someone tells me something, and I can’t unsee it. It connects me to what is being said so I can understand and empathize with a situation as if I have experienced it. I can bypass it at other times because I have taught myself how to do that. But, at this age, I was still not aware of what my mind did with information.
To say I was impressionable was an understatement. It was like a superpower that I had to learn how to harness to use for good.
The word ‘puzzle’ set the idea it would be difficult. This wasn’t going to be a simple flashcard with an image on it like a cow, dog, or a pig that I had to identify and verbalize. It was a more challenging task to complete, and it wasn’t like she gave us a rallying speech that said she knew we could accomplish it.
It was more daunting as if we were not going to graduate from life if we came back with the wrong answer.
He handed it back to me, and with his finger, he showed me this clear-cut path that led to the start. There were no dead ends or starting completely over. There was no questioning of left or right, getting hung up in a far dark corner and then figuring out which way to go. It cut the confusion completely out and illuminated the only way.
“Start at the opposite end of the paper and work your way to the top.”
I felt like I had been shown a way where there seemed to be no way. I was free from the dilemma that had been handed to me and given guidance from someone who had been in my situation before.
Within seconds, I followed what he had told me to do, and I was no longer chained down to what the public school system thought would shape me into a better person.
His advice was good, and when I taught my girls this method, they found it to be foolproof. They were saved from the same torment that I was.
After proving that we could escape an enclosure on paper, we were sent home with a word search where we had to circle whatever terms were listed at the bottom.
I was having trouble finding a particular word. It was one massive conglomeration of letters in rows that had no meaning but were hiding what I was determined to find.
While I was sweating it out, my mom noticed I was stuck.
“Chris, pick out one letter and just look for that one. It will eventually lead you to what you are trying to find.”
For example, if you are trying to find the word zebra, look for a z only.
When I put her trick to the test, just like my dad’s instructions for making things less complicated, it saved me time. Instead of looking at the big picture, I focused my attention on a smaller scale.
“If you break something apart, it makes it easier to spot instead of looking at all of it at once.”
There were solid spiritual messages that I don’t think either party was aware of in both cases, but now I get it.
Starting at the bottom and working your way to the top can happen after you have decided to give up what you thought was right, but God is calling you to a new way. It’s part of a rebuilding process where everything seems as if you are doing things from a backward standpoint to get to where you want to go. So much erasing.
Nothing is familiar; you feel like you die a new death every day, and by night, you cry yourself to sleep, questioning your decision-making, being pulled by what you know is God because the signs keep on showing up. And somehow, you keep trying to walk in the way your spirit leads you.
Sometimes you aren’t walking but dragging yourself down the path with the promise that things might get better. Most of that is just the fatigue from insomnia, but you cling to this from Psalm 119:1-8:
You’re blessed when you stay on course, walking steadily on the road revealed by God.
You’re blessed when you follow his directions,
doing your best to find him.
That’s right—you don’t go off on your own;
you walk straight along the road he set.
You, God, prescribed the right way to live;
now you expect us to live it.
Oh, that my steps might be steady,
keeping to the course you set;
Then I’d never have any regrets
in comparing my life with your counsel.
I thank you for speaking straight from your heart;
I learn the pattern of your righteous ways.
I’m going to do what you tell me to do;
don’t ever walk off and leave me. (Message)
My mom’s help reminds me of this from Matthew 6:34:
Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. (Message)
If that doesn’t say to take the largeness of life and go piece by piece, one day at a time, I don’t know what does.
Most of us want to do things in the order that makes sense, and we want it done yesterday. That usually isn’t how God makes things happen.
“Seek,” she said to me.
It was one of those moments when I didn’t want to take her advice, but there it was already in the air and aimed at me.
“What?” I asked my youngest daughter.
“You need to seek.”
“No, I think you do.”
We were watching tennis, so it felt right to volley it back at her.
“NO, you do.”
She wasn’t the one questioning everything, so maybe she was right.
I picked up a journal that I had written in several months prior, and it fell open to a page where I had written in the margin,
Seek Ye First
I forgot I had written it. I turned it around so she could see it—big mistake. Her piercing stare said it was now an assignment.
In Matthew 6:30-33 it says:
If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. (Message)
You already know the ending when you see a movie or read a book more than once. Isaiah 46 follows along with that idea.
I am God, the only God you’ve had or ever will have—
From the very beginning telling you what the ending will be,
All along letting you in
on what is going to happen,
Assuring you, ‘I’m in this for the long haul,
I’ll do exactly what I set out to do’. (Message)
And in John 16:13, we are promised this:
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. (NLT)
If you find yourself trying to figure something out, God promises to show you things that might not make sense now but will help during the struggle of the seeking.