I sorted through the papers in her school take-home folder: homework, tests, notes and announcements, and pictures from her friends.
The paper was covered top to bottom in multiplication word problems, hard ones like: “Sam bought 21 cookies from the store every day for a week. How many cookies had he bought by the end of the week….” or something like that.
This wasn’t simple 1×1 = 1 and on up the single-digit line, the kind of multiplication you learn through sing-songy repetition, simple songs, and homemade flash cards.
This was 64 x 6 and the like, problems I would pull out the scratch paper (or the calculator) to figure out.
So, I asked my daughter, “Who gave you this paper?,” thinking to myself her teacher had missed a few lessons in the math book.
But no, not her teacher. Another school staff member gave the kids a challenge with the promise of free ice cream from the cafeteria as a reward.
To my daughter, free ice cream in the cafeteria was enough incentive to make her don hiking boots and climb Mt. Everest.
Yet, reading through the problems, I just kept thinking that it was all too hard and maybe a bit unfair to offer the incentive of free ice cream and then make it unattainable.
I grabbed the paper at the top in order to fold it down and quietly slip it into the trash can, hoping my daughter would forget it and the disappointment.
But I stopped.
Suddenly, I saw beyond the questions and started reading my daughter’s scribbles and answers. She had made charts and graphs, tally marks grouped together, tens columns and ones columns and rows and rows of addition.
And she had answered the questions correctly. (I pulled out my calculator to be sure.) Then I called her over to explain it all to me.
She spoke in a whirlwind. Why she had arranged the numbers this way. How if you did things like this or that it would work it all out. I couldn’t understand it, these complex and abstract ways to think math.
And I had thought the paper was too hard.
I do this in life and call it being “practical” or “realistic,” writing off tasks as too difficult, promises as too out of reach, dreams as too unattainable. And I take words like “hard” or “difficult” and turn them into “impossible.”
Sometimes I even give up.
Maybe it’s just that we all have a way of complicating the simple.
We try to make issues of statistics and timelines, resources and probabilities, and God cuts through all of that:
“Trust and obey.”
When Moses gave God’s commandments to Israel, it could have been all so overwhelming. God was practical. God was specific. He seemed to have something to say about every aspect of their lives from skin diseases to eating habits to relationships with their neighbors.
But God summed it all up for them: “Do not add to or subtract from these commands I am giving you. Just obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you” (Deuteronomy 4:2).
No matter how confusing and complicated we try to make this holy life, it’s always as simple as this: “just obey.”
Yes, God says,
Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach….No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it (Deuteronomy 30:11, 14).
And yet, they failed. Years and years after Promised Land living, the book of Judges tells us how many tribes “failed to drive out the people living” in the land, failed to take possession of the promise (Judges 1). They were living a compromised life without victory.
They didn’t fail because it was too hard, though, and not because God was unfaithful or incapable or too weak or bested by the false gods of the enemies.
They failed because they looked at the task and decided it was just too difficult and wasn’t it better to stay safely out of the way rather than try at all?
Maybe if they’d been promised free ice cream….
Or maybe if they had realized that if God promised it, He could do it.
If He gives the vision, if He calls you out, if He assigns the task, if He creates the passion, if He directs Your steps…. then conquer those tendencies to make it so complicated and excuse-laden, so bogged down in the overwhelming and the fear-filled.
Keep it that simple. Let Him handle the rest.
Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader. Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness. Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in November 2013! To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.
Copyright © 2013 Heather King