Fear looks for the problem but faith looks for the solution. Fear generates the fight or flight response but faith generates intelligent thinking and personal mastery. In this section I want to talk about being “solution-focused” as an alternative to being “problem-focused” and as a way out of the fight or flight spiral and as a huge step towards personal mastery.
I first came across this concept in the work of William Hudson O’Hanlon and Michele Weiner-Davis in their book “In Search of Solutions” which looks at a new approach to brief family therapy. It’s a brilliant book and I highly recommend it. It has revolutionized my clinical practice. However I have as usual sought to go a ‘bit deeper” and seek its application to the Christian life and it is my conclusions, based on reflecting on their work, that I will present here.
Their concept is that instead of trying to analyze the problem down to its last detail, we should instead search for the solution. A youth in trouble with the police was brought to one of them for counseling. So instead of asking “why do you break the law” they asked “when don’t you get into trouble?”. The youth replied “when I play football”. How often can you possibly play football the counselor replied? Soon the youth was playing football and other sports in his every spare moment. He was not getting into trouble any more because the time that has been given to doing bad things was now given to doing harmless things. They found a solution. In just two sessions of counseling his delinquent behavior was reversed. But if the therapists had taken the “find the problem” route they would still be analyzing his childhood and he would still be in trouble with the police. The basic concepts are:
Just find a solution. Don’t ask why the stream is flooding or sit around analyzing the water quality – just find the bridge and walk across.
Avoid the paralysis of analysis. If you puncture the tire on your car with a nail don’t analyze the nail, change the tire.
Don’t see problems everywhere. Learn to see solutions everywhere.
Big problems sometimes have really simple solutions. Scurvy was a huge problem among sailors for centuries and the British Admiralty refused to believe that fresh fruit was the solution saying “such a large problem cannot have such a simple solution”. It took the death of one third of the British navy from scurvy in one year and the urging of Captain James Cook to get the Admiralty to see that big problems sometimes have easy solutions.
If you do what you have always done you will get what you have always got.
Ask what is working and do more of it. Discover the positive and reinforce it.
If it’s not working stop doing it. If its futile, its futile.
Don’t fix the blame – fix the problem.
Forget about reacting to the problem and just start searching for the solution.
The person who is chronically poor and unable to pay their bills does not need to ask: “Why am I poor and unable to pay my bills”. That will just lead to them blaming themselves, their wife, their parents, the government, their employer and God. They do need to find a solution and ask the questions: “How can I best bring my finances under control? How can I make myself wealthier? How can I solve this financial mess?” The solution focused approach will work better and faster than all problem-focused analysis of their poverty.
When we become problem-focused we start finding people to blame and enemies to accuse or we get wound up over the size of the problem. Basically we soon end up in fight or flight mode. When we start searching for solutions we start thinking, we start using our mind, we start praying, we start digging into the Scriptures, we ask for wisdom, we tally our resources and we move forward step by step in faith believing that God has a solution. In other words we start marshalling our resources towards mastery.
Jesus had an amazingly solution-focused approach to life. There was always a solution. There were no “problems” for God. In the gospels Jesus says “nothing is impossible with God” or “all things are possible with God” a total of nine times. Jesus finds solutions for blind people, lepers, demon-possessed Legion, Lazarus in the grave, five thousand hungry listeners and a boat full of disciples on a stormy sea. Whatever the problem there was always a solution and the solution always gave glory to God. The faith of Jesus searched for, found and activated solutions.
Jesus never gave a long-winded analysis of things when the disciples asked “Why”. In John chapter nine when they asked “why was this man born blind, who sinned, him or his parents” He cut them short. The analysis was not needed and not helpful. What was needed was a solution that would give glory to God. So Jesus healed the blind man. Jesus did not teach His disciples to analyze problems and write treatises on them. He taught them how to provide solutions by healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers and preaching the Kingdom of God. (See Luke chapters 9 & 10).
Obviously a fairly basic level of analysis is needed. You do need to identify if the person is blind or lame or demon-possessed so you can know what to do. But you don’t stop right there with the analysis. You move from the analysis, by faith, to the solution. This is where mastery comes in. To move through life with mastery is to be able to see the solutions in every situation and to implement them to the glory of God. This requires a changed mindset. Instead of a fearful, helpless, analyzing, quarreling and useless mind we need one that is bold, and confident and faith-filled and solution-seeking and this can only come through the power of the Holy Spirit as the mind is fixed on God.