In my first ever psychology class at Lipscomb University, the professor introduced us to his subject by writing on these words on the blackboard: “the problem is never the problem.” He did this before speaking a word, but he would later expand to say that whenever you have a client walk into your office, they will tell you what the biggest problem in their life is—and they will almost always be wrong.
People love to talk about where their problems come from. Sometimes it can be an excuse for our own shortcomings, but it can also come from a place of anxiety for the future, or just blowing off steam about something that bothers us. My father used to play the blame-game a lot. Especially after his heart problems, he became rather bitter and much more critical than he used to be.
But about a year before he passed away, my father (also named Alex, but we called him Sandy) collapsed on the floor and nearly died. He was being kept alive by machines for awhile, and the doctors didn’t think he would recover. The fascinating thing is, after he did, I got my old dad back. No more bitterness, no more criticizing, the man was overflowing with love and kindness for our family—and now that’s how we all remember him.
I’ve counseled a number of people at the end of their lives and observed that this is actually a very common phenomenon. A small percentage get angry and bitter, but the vast majority are ready to get real, to admit their shortcomings, make amends, and try to put their relationships first before they die. There’s no more time for the blame-game, or pointless complaining.
Now, it’s very easy to say, “live every day as though it were your last.” But human beings have a strong tendency to settle into easy patterns, and it takes real commitment to maintain an idea like that, which isn’t what you might call “natural” to your current circumstances. Willpower is all well and good, but it’s almost impossible to maintain willpower over long periods of time. So what can we do?
Well, it follows from last week’s post on seeking to cultivate passion in our lives. There’s a passage in ancient manuscripts where the apostle Paul encourages us to “never be lacking in zeal,” and while he was speaking more specifically about spiritual zeal, the concept really has to apply to any idea that we would wish to change our lives. This is a big part of why I think an earnest search for the truth is so indispensable to living your best possible life. Because ultimately, living only for what’s most comfortable in the moment just doesn’t give us enough reason to do the hard things that lead, in the end, to love and happiness.
Have a blessed, wonderful day!
Dr. Alex Loyd