The Joy of Algebra

I have a confession. I wasn’t very good at math when I was younger. In fact, it was only after leaving high school, and at age 32 when I passed the extremely demanding Civil Service Fast Stream entrance exam that I realized i wasn’t actually a math idiot. It just took me longer sometimes to grasp a concept, and once I’d got it, I was good to go. I probably needed an extra 10 minutes per class session, and I don’t blame my math teachers for not being able to give that to me.

One subject I really found confusing was algebra. I was okay at the simple stuff: x + 3 = 9. Solve for x. Even I could manage that. But when it got more complicated, I was quickly out of my depth and gave up. Fortunately for me, my career paths up to now have not required it.

So, recently I decided to re-visit algebra, courtesy of the Khan Academy online, which provides excellent video tutorials and tests to get you up to speed. And to my great delight, I’m really enjoying it. It’s starting to make sense, and I’ve found out that it’s really not beyond me.

There are two primary reasons for learning algebra at this point in my life:

1) I want to be able to help Cicely with her homework, and she’ll be coming up to this soon.

2) Algebra offers something to me that I really need in my life right now: certainty and answers.

I suspect that this deeper psychological and emotional need is more of a driver than the first reason.

Since I left Central Christian Church in January of this year, I have been diligently searching for what is next in terms of a job/career. I’ve walked down quite a few roads since then, and pushed on some doors, and at this point, still nothing is definite. I don’t know what I will be doing as a job even 3 months from now. I’ve been trying to build a consultancy for churches and non-profits, but that’s slow going. I investigated some jobs with a couple of training companies but that came to nothing. I’ve applied for a couple of positions with the British Government, and nothing has resulted from that so far. I’ve applied to study for a distance learning Masters degree in Theology through my alma mater, London School of Theology, but that’s still pending. I’m even considering a ministry position in another church.

So many options and yet so little certainty. I envy those people who have such a solid handle on God’s will for their professional life. Those people who can say, with rock solid certainty, “God has called me to this. I can’t do anything else.”

I’ve never really felt that. I know God has gifted me in certain ways, and I’ve been privileged to use those gifts in a number of churches. But I don’t really get the blinding light/Damascus vision when it comes to my next career move. I have chosen what seems right, and most times, it has been revealed to be right – but in retrospect. At the time of the decision, it just seemed like the best option. Perhaps that is guidance, but more of the burning bush/audible voice variety would be nice!

So, in the middle of so many unanswered questions, it’s comforting to know that there is a solution to the unknown factor x in algebra. I don’t know what the solution to my x (what will I do next for my career) is, and I don’t really know how to solve for it. So, I revert to what can be known… algebra.

And, of course, some basic truths about God, which I still hold to be true, even in the midst of the confusion and pain that surrounded my leaving of my last church. I know God loves me. I know he cares for me and my family. I trust him to provide for us. I’m holding on to these basics in the midst of so many intangibles and unknowables.

When the great theologian Karl Barth was asked, towards the end of his life, to share the greatest theological insight he had ever discovered, he said this: Jesus loves me. This I know. For the Bible tells me so.

How wonderful, that from all his brilliance, he still returned to the basics.

I don’t know if there is confusion and pain in your life right now. I don’t know what the unknowable x is for you. But hold on to this. Jesus loves you. This I know. For the Bible tells me so.

And I’m holding on right there with you.