I’m a fixer by nature. Give me a problem and I’ll solve it. And I honestly love helping people, so it’s not like I want the credit, or a big thank you. I just love to help, love fixing.
At least, I did.
In the last few years, I’ve changed. I don’t know exactly what it was that made me realize that fixing isn’t always the answer. Maybe it was when I dealt with miscarriages and marital problems that had no way of being fixed. Maybe it was when a former student of mine committed suicide and there was no solution to the incredible pain in my heart. Maybe it was when friends of mine dealt with heartbreaking issues that could not be fixed.
At some point I realized that wanting to fix things seems noble, but it doesn’t respect the magnitude of the problem. It often also doesn’t do justice to the depth of the feelings someone has about that particular problem.
Sure, there are things that have an easy solution. If my son forgets his lunch, all I need to do is drive to school and drop it off. And if that becomes a recurring thing, we’ll need to figure out a way to make him remember before he gets on the bus.
But what about a friend who has heard she’ll never have kids? What about the youth pastor who got fired from his job for no reason at all? What about that student whose mom died of cancer?
For many of us, wanting to help, to solve, to fix is instinctual. We don’t think about it. Someone shares a problem (or what we perceive as a problem) and we come up with a solution. I never realized how easy this comes to people until I stopped doing it myself (though I still fall prey to that ingrained habit sometimes). Suddenly I started to notice how often people come with a solution…even when the person never asked for it.
When that friends shares with you that she can’t have kids, does she expect you to solve it? Of course not.
When that youth pastor posts he got fired, does he want you to tell him what to do? Well, maybe, but does he come right out and say it?
That students knows you can’t bring his mom back and neither can you ever replace that big gaping hole in his life. He doesn’t expect you to.
So why do we offer solutions anyway? We do we try and fix things that cannot be fixed?
Sometimes it’s because we don’t know what else to say, I think. We have to say something, more than a meaningless platitude, we reason, so we offer whatever wisdom we can come up with.
But how often is it because we’re uncomfortable with situations that have no fix?
This was my big moment, my Aha-Erlebnis if you will, a while ago. I realized that one big reason why I wanted to give people advice is because I was mighty uncomfortable not being able to offer anything. I wanted to say something to make them feel better—if only temporary.
Quite frankly there’s an ego-issue at play as well. Admitting that we don’t have an answer, that we don’t know what to say, it’s hard. It’s humbling.
And—let’s face it—there’s a spiritual element to this as well. Too often, Christianity is brought as a fix too. ‘Whatever the question, Jesus is the answer’. Erm, no. He’s not. Jesus is not a Band-Aid, a fix for anything. He’s our hope, our Savior, our everlasting Father, but he is not a fix for whatever situation you find yourself in.
Since my big insight moment, I’m trying to approach things differently. First of all, I’ve become way more sensitive to what people really need, what they’re actually asking for. And believe it or not, but if people want advice they’ll most likely straight out ask for it. If they don’t, I refrain from giving it to them.
The second thing I’m trying is being instead of fixing. Being means standing (or sitting) next to someone, satisfied to be with them in their pain, their grief, or whatever they’re feeling without offering anything except encouragement and comfort. And by comfort, I don’t mean empty platitudes that still contain a fixing element (‘God will use this for good’—that may be true, but you’re still trying to fix something).
The third thing is that I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that not everything can be fixed. That seems like such a given, but to me it had deep spiritual consequences as well. A deep awareness of the brokenness of this world has deepened my faith and my trust in Jesus. Not as the Fixer, but as the source of eternal hope, the ultimate Healer.
P.S. This spirit of being vs fixing is one of the reasons why I love the Women in Youth Ministry Campference. It’s a conference that offers no quick solutions, no easy fixes, but is content to stand together in the ups and downs of life. We don’t fix, we are. Together.
Rachel Blom is the author of Storify: Speaking to Teenagers in a Post-Christian World (Youth Cartel 2015) and co-organizer of the Women in Youth Ministry Campference.[Photo Credit: Free Images STXC, cc]