Math—It’s Not about the Numbers

Growing up, we always had pets—dogs, guinea pigs, rabbits, birds, and hamsters, to name a few. I remember waking in the middle of the night on many occasions, only to find my pet hamster running on his (or was it her?—I could never tell) red wheel . . . for hours.

Photo by Doenertier82 at the German language Wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Then, my kids had their own pets, and we would watch with hearty laughter as the little furballs would run for hours. We wondered why they endured the vigorous endeavor. Instinct and exercise play a part in their running.

But I pondered another possible reason recently.

Problems with Math Problems

The other day I was reviewing the math papers we have my son Jon work on through the summer months. We’re covering two-digit addition and subtraction. We have been at this for nine years. With all the energy of a hamster, Jon hits those pages with gusto and goes until they are completed. His determination is astounding at times because, like our furry friends, he may not have measurable progress, but he perseveres nevertheless.

As we reviewed his work, my heart sank. One problem after another had to be reworked. He finally said, “I hate math!” I couldn’t argue; math is rarely a favorite for many. Practicing math problems is good for the brain and teaches more than just 2 + 2. It teaches Jon skills like determination, focus, patience, tenacity, persistence and helps him develop an attitude of endurance.

Math is a tool. Yes, it helps his brain, but more important, it develops character qualities needed when life gets tough.

Running from vs. Working Through

Without question, Scripture promises we will encounter problems in this life, but society seems to view problems as more of an interruption than a reality. We habitually attempt to run from problems rather than work through them. Working through problems is demanding; it requires us to give up immediate gratification in exchange for long-term character development.

It sounds about as fun as hamster wheels and math problems, doesn’t it? But remember, it’s not just about exercise or numbers; it’s about what we learn from these challenges. Just take a look at what Scripture says:

The righteous person faces many troubles, but the LORD comes to the rescue each time. (Psalm 34:19 NLT)

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. (Romans 5:3–5 NLT)

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2–4)

There is purpose in those silly hamster wheels; without exerting the energy, the hamster could die. I have to believe there is purpose in Jon’s math as he learns the value of enduring and persevering. Jon’s math skills may never improve beyond adding and subtracting, but he already surpasses most of us when it comes to endurance.

Let Me Hear from You

Many of life’s problems are not fixable, but we work through them day by day because growth happens when we choose to not run from our problems.

So I have to ask:

  • Are you enduring life’s problems, or do they seem too complicated or impossible to solve?
  • Do you focus on what these problems may be teaching you?

You can leave a comment by clicking here.