When societies get out of harmony, problems develop within the society. Collective problems. Their purpose is to push the whole society toward harmony. Individuals can discover that they can not only grow and learn through individual problem solving, they can learn and grow through collective problem solving. I often say I’ve run out of personal problems, then every once in a while a little one presents itself somewhere. But I hardly recognize it as a problem because it seems so insignificant. Actually, I want to do all my learning and growing now by helping to solve collective problems.
There was a time when I thought it was a nuisance to be confronted with a problem. I tried to get rid of it. I tried to get somebody else to solve it for me. But that time was long ago. It was a great day in my life when I discovered the wonderful purpose of problems. Yes, they have a wonderful purpose.
Some people wish for a life of no problems, but I would never wish such a life for any of you. What I wish for you is the great inner strength to solve your problems meaningfully and grow. Problems are learning and growing experiences. A life without problems would be a barren existence, without the opportunity for spiritual growth. Were I to solve problems for others they would remain stagnant; they would never grow. It would be a great injustice to them. My approach is to help with cause rather than effect.
When I help others, it is by instilling within them the inspiration to work out problems by themselves. If you feed a man a meal, you only feed him for a day–but if you teach a man to grow food, you feed him for a lifetime.
It is through solving problems correctly that we grow spiritually. We are never given a burden unless we have the capacity to overcome it. If a great problem is set before you, this merely indicates that you have the great inner strength to solve a great problem. There is never really anything to be discouraged about, because difficulties are opportunities for inner growth, and the greater the difficulty the greater the opportunity for growth.
Difficulties with material things often come to remind us that our concentration should be on spiritual things instead of material things. Sometimes difficulties of the body come to show that the body is just a transient garment, and that the reality is the indestructible essence which activates the body.But when we can say, “Thank God for problems which are sent for our spiritual growth,” they are problems no longer. They then become opportunities.
Let me tell you a story of a woman who had a personal problem. She lived constantly with pain. It was something in her back. I can still see her, arranging the pillows behind her back so it wouldn’t hurt quite so much. She was quite bitter about this. I talked to her about the wonderful purpose of problems in our lives, and I tried to inspire her to think about God instead of her problems. I must have been successful to some degree, because one night after she had gone to bed she got to thinking about God.
“God regards me, this little grain of dust, as so important that he sends me just the right problems to grow on,” she began thinking. And she turned to God and said, “Oh, dear God, thank you for this pain through which I may grow closer to thee.” Then the pain was gone and it has never returned. Perhaps that’s what it means when it says: ‘In all things be thankful.’ Maybe more often we should pray the prayer of thankfulness for our problems. Prayer is a concentration of positive thoughts.
Many common problems are caused by wrong attitudes. People see themselves as the center of the universe and judge everything as it relates to them. Naturally you won’t be happy that way. You can only be happy when you see things in proper perspective: all human beings are of equal importance in God’s sight, and have a job to do in the divine plan.
Let me give you an example of a woman who had some difficulty finding out what her job was in the divine plan. She was in her early forties, single, and needed to earn a living. She hated her work to the extent that it made her sick, and the first thing she did was to go to a psychiatrist who said he would adjust her to her job. So after some adjustment she went back to work. But she still hated her job. She got sick again and then came to me. Well, I asked what her calling was, and she said, “I’m not called to do anything.” That was not true. What she really meant was she didn’t know her calling. So I asked her what she liked to do because if it is your calling you will do it as easily and joyously as I walk my pilgrimage. I found she liked to do three things. She liked to play the piano, but wasn’t good enough to earn her living at that. She liked to swim, but wasn’t good enough to be a swimming instructor, and she liked to work with flowers.
I got her a job in a florist shop so she could earn her living working with flowers. She loved it. She said she would do it for nothing. But we used the other things too. Remember, she needed more than just a livelihood. She needed other things. The swimming became her exercise. It fits in with sensible living habits. The piano playing became her path of service. She went to a retirement home and played the old songs for the people there. She got them to sing, and she was good at that. Out of those three things such a beautiful life was built for that woman. She became a very attractive woman and married a year or so later. She stayed right in that life pattern. I knew another woman who was confined to her room and had been there for quite some time. I went in to see her and I could tell immediately from the lines in her face and the tenseness of her that it wasn’t physical at all. And I don’t think I had talked to her for more than five minutes before she was telling me all about how mean her sister had been to her. The way she told it, I knew she had told that story again and again and mulled over in her mind constantly that bitterness against her sister. I found myself explaining to her that if she would forgive, ask forgiveness, and make peace with her sister, then she could look for an improvement in her health. “Huh!” she said. “I’d rather die. You have no idea how mean she was.” So the situation drifted for awhile.
But early one morning at dawn this woman wrote a beautiful and inspired letter to her sister, which she showed to me. (There is something very wonderful to be said about dawn. Sunset is good, too. The only thing is, at sunset most everybody is awake and they’re hurrying and scurrying around. At dawn most everybody is slowed down or asleep and they are much more harmonious when they’re asleep. So dawn is often a good time for spiritual things.) I immediately went into town and mailed the letter before she could change her mind. When I got back, she had changed her mind–so it’s a good thing I had mailed it! She worried a little, but by return mail came a letter from her sister, and her sister was so glad they were to be reconciled. And you know, on the same day that letter arrived from her sister the woman was up and around and out of bed, and the last I saw of her she was joyously off for a reconciliation with her sister.
There’s something to that old saying that hate injures the hater, not the hated.