Over the years, I’ve done a variety of things from working in computers to serving as a pastor; I have been a radio broadcaster, a mediator, a counselor, and a teacher. All through those years, I helped young people as a tutor, mentor, and friend; I’ve always said it was because I have 3 younger brothers. That I help young students from other countries now is no surprise since I have always sought to be a helpful person. I’ve tried to find a single word that captures all that, and often I settle on the word “communicator,” but when I use the word, I mean both input as well as output. Yes, I am fairly adept at speaking, writing, teaching, and preaching; I know how to express myself and do it with skill and humor. However, I match these expressive skills with impressive ones; I listen, read, learn, and hear the Word as well as preaching it. I am certain that, without being open and attentive to the input side of communication, I would quickly become useless on the output side.
More than a communicator, though, I believe I am a problem-solver. Don’t misunderstand. I rarely give advice. Even when it’s been requested or paid for (when I was in private practice), I learned not to offer my solutions. Today, on occasion, someone will ask me to tell them what to do, and I generally will not give the requested advice. One simple reason is that proffered advice, especially unsolicited, tends to be ignored. No matter how highly a person may respect my judgment and wisdom, he or she will not follow advice they do not own or a solution that they cannot understand. Teachers who lecture in spite of knowing that many students struggle to learn by hearing have the same problem. It’s a good reminder that teaching for many is not the same has helping students to learn, which is what I strive to do as a tutor.
For me, being a problem-solver in any of my several roles involves helping others discover their own solutions. Of course, as a tutor, teacher, or preacher, I have knowledge and hopefully wisdom, but even then, if I hail forth with “Thus saith Roger,” most will not heed my voice, follow my wisdom, or try the solutions I offer. With individual students, I am always watching and listening for better ways to show students what they need, almost guiding them to an “Aha” moment when they get or discover it for the first time. Granted, some students will try to get you to do it for them, a mistake peer coaches and tutors can easily make. As a tutor, dealing with students’ deadlines and study schedules, it can be a hard discipline to maintain, but I try. In the broader realm of “problem-solver,” it is generally easier to pass over easy answers (once a person gets used to the idea) and help a person discover the solutions they need.
An important element of the communicator/problem-solver role is encouragement. Put negatively, people need help overcoming their sense of failure found in phrases like “I can’t” or “I’m stupid” or maybe even “I’m a bad person.” As time has passed, I have found this easier and easier to do.
“You can do this. I’m sure of it.”
“You’re not bad. You’re normal. Give yourself a break.”
“You’re not stupid. You’re lazy!” This last was from a student who claimed he was stupid in math, but I quickly observed he caught on to directions quickly, but just as quickly tried to avoid doing any more work than necessary. Even for pretty smart people, math takes practice, and a lazy student will likely have difficulty.
Even when people are bad, I avoid the accuser’s role. Most of us react to being accused and are not likely to accept the accusation. I don’t need to confess their sin; they need to confess it. They are more likely to do so when they hear a fellow sinner being sympathetic to their struggles. It has always amazed me that Jesus didn’t confront Peter with his sin; instead, after the miracle of the fish in Luke 5:8, Peter confesses being a sinner. The power and holiness of Jesus drew forth his confession, and that will work better today than me posing as a righteous man.
Another area of problem-solving in which I have served is conflict resolution. It is inarguable that God desires us to love each other, live in peace, forgive one anther, dwell in unity, and be reconciled to each other and to him. The contentious history of the Church is a scandal in that light. In our presently adversarial, oppositional culture, the conflict with the Body of Christ is an even greater scandal. I could easily fill pages on the problem (and have done so in other places), but here I want to say that this is another kind of problem I seek to solve. In general the skills are often called mediation (“Table Talk” refers to the mediation table), but I like to call it Biblical or individual peacemaking. This is a much needed skill in the Church offering help to everyone from the estranged couple to fighting neighbors to churches about to split. After decades of “pro-family” “pro-marriage” ministry, teaching, books, radio, and television, I fear we have overlooked a much needed element, which is how to resolve our differences. I find it ironic that some seek world peace but know nothing about the most basic forms of peacemaking at the personal level.
So why have I written this? Someone quite close to me, someone I care about a great deal, is going through a bad time. I’ve seen the sad countenance, and I’ve heard the heavy silence. I know a heart is breaking, and I’d like to say, “I feel your pain.” Years ago, I felt the pain of three younger brothers losing their father when they were only 16, 13, and 4. I was only an older brother, and I wished I could done more. Since then, I’ve reached out to so many young people—mostly boys, but girls, too—to offer understanding, encouragement, support, and my love. I’ve befriended those who’d lost their dads, helped others whose same gender parent seemed aggressive or unkind, and even encouraged those who had great parents through times of disagreement or frustration. I realized that young people can always benefit from a stable adult friend, especially when peer friends encourage them negatively. I love people and I love helping them, and maybe if someone sees this, they will ask for help, a listening ear, a kind word, and a loving friend to help them through their difficult moment.
Perhaps you’re hurting, confused, angry, or bewildered. Maybe someone has made themselves your adversary, or maybe like me, you’re tired of all the trash talking that seeks to belittle the other guy rather than understand him. Perhaps you find yourself often wondering why things are as the are, things that ought to be so much better. I hope you will find here ideas to challenge your thinking, answer your questions, or ease the hurting, and a place where you can offer your thoughts without having your head chopped off! (as long as you’re not trying to chop off mine, of course)
So, welcome to Table Talk.
Almost 14 years ago, I wrote a complementary piece, more mission-oriented. Far from feeling my life is over, I believe I have things to do!