I am smart. Really, I am. I made good grades in school, and I know how to do all sorts of interesting and useless things. I even made good grades in math, although where all that information went, I don’t know. Probably lost with the remote control and the left sock to every pair I ever owned.
Which is why, when my children ask me for help with math, I offer them a frightened, deer-in-the-headlights expression followed by approximately thirty seconds of a zombie-like stare. That usually sends them on their way.
But not yesterday. No. Yesterday, the boy child was confused about fractions, and he needed help. And since I was the only one around to help him, I decided to grit my teeth, roll up my sleeves, and just do it.
Nike, move over.
I figured, “Fractions? How hard can they be?”
I got out a blank sheet of paper and a medicine cap and traced twelve circles on the page. Pies, you know. Chocolate. I then proceeded to slice those pies into various sizes. One of them was divided in half, the next into thirds, the next into fourths, and so on. You get the picture. I was feeling pretty smart.
We then had a long discussion about if I ate one half of a pie and boy child ate five sevenths of a pie, who ate more pie? Not that it would matter. We’d both be sick. But after a few pie questions, the boy seemed to understand fractions about as well as I do, so we moved on to his actual assignment.
First question: Which is greater, 42/56 or 28/35?
Who in their right mind slices a pie into fifty-six pieces? Or even thirty-five pieces, for that matter? If you’re going to cut the pieces that small, why bother?
Needless to say, boy child and I both became very frustrated. I personally got so stressed I wanted to eat the whole chocolate pie by myself, in one sitting. But I reminded myself that I am smart, I reminded the boy that he is smart, and we decided together that we could do this.
That’s when the lightbulb moment came. Call it an epiphany, or whatever. I looked at the boy child and asked, “Son, what grade are you in?”
“Well, that’s where we’ve been going wrong. In fifth grade, you don’t get those one-step problems any more. You know, the kind where you look at the question and you know the answer right away. No, son. In fifth grade and beyond, you have to work multiple-step problems. So instead of getting frustrated because we can’t find the solution right away, we need to just figure out what to do first. Then after the first step, we can figure out the next step, and so on. So lets look at this problem and figure out what we can do first, to decide which one is bigger.”
Together we reduced, divided, then reduced and divided some more, until we had our answer. Don’t ask me the answer now. I don’t remember, and I don’t feel like working the problem again.
But while we were doing those ridiculously hard pie problems, I realized that even math can carry meaningful life lessons. Most problems in life aren’t the easy kind. Most can’t be solved with one step. And when we realize that, we tend to get frustrated and give up.
But those hard problems become doable when we break them into chunks. When life seems overwhelming, we don’t have to fix it all at once. We just have to figure out the first step. And once we’ve accomplished that first step, we can figure out the next step, and so on and so on. As long as we keep moving forward, we’ll eventually succeed.
And if we mess up one of the steps, that’s okay, too. We just back up and start that step again. As long as we’re moving in the right direction, we can feel good about our progress.
Another important life lesson to remember, though, is that we have a tutor who actually knows the subject matter: life. And, He knows how to teach us so we’ll understand. As long as we listen to Him, we’ll ace those hard problems with flying colors.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him,” James 1:5.