There comes a time when every parent has to have “the talk” — a serious, life-giving conversation with their child about the hard facts of life. And this particular talk, which I had the pleasure of having last week, usually starts with this teary-eyed question:

Why do I even have to do Algebra?

There are a hundred logical paths one can take to answer to this philosophical query: critical thinking, problem solving, mind-expanding.

But, as I can tell you from many dark and painful mother years, none of these answers are sufficient for a teenager who begins to hate numbers the moment they mix in letters and make cruel mathematical soup.

The only answer that truly matters in the end?

You have to. 

That’s right, you have to. Our state says that Algebra is required to get your high school diploma. And our culture (and our science) says this diploma is the one of the most basic keys you need to unlock the door of a good life.

Eventually, the standards might change. Education and society may shift. In one happy day ahead, we could all be sorted into Hogwarts-like houses, and you could be chosen to snuggle down by the fire in a math-free Common Room.

But today is not that day. And so, a million Hefty bags full of bad feelings about Algebra are not enough to outweigh what’s crashing down on the other side of the fulcrum: the colossal anvil of requirement.

If you cling to your feelings and give up, you will catapulted into the air by the consequences.

Everything Is Algebra

By now, you know I’m telling you a story for a reason, and today, that reason is this:

Everything Is Algebra.

Marriage. Career. Finances. Friendships. Parenting. Spiritual life.

Choosing a path with the GPS of our feelings instead of the roadmap of truth will wreck our lives every single time.

We’ll detour and waste years. We’ll get lost and waste strength. We’ll spend up our time, energy, money, and argument adding bulk to the bags of our feelings instead of fixing anything at all.

We’ll cling to the pile, and be catapulted into the air. Sometimes the ride up feels exhilarating, vindicating — freeing, even.

The fall never does.

So where do we put our hearts?

What to do with our affections? There’s no doubt we were created to feel; emotions are not evil, and ignoring them is unhealthy and unwise. But where do we put them?

In the Psalms, God shows us the way.

Psalm 5 begins: Give ear to my words, O Lord; consider my groaning.
Psalm 5 ends: For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover him with favor as with a shield.

Psalm 10 begins: Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
Psalm 10 ends: O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart.

Psalm 13 begins: How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
Psalm 13 ends: But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Psalm 42 begins: My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”
Psalm 42 ends: Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.

Over and over, the psalmist starts the lyrics of his song with feelings and winds up with the chorus of truth.

One simple switch that changes everything.

We get this backwards. We begin with truth and let the day drag us away from it. We start with certainty — new day, new resolutions, new strength and focus to move forward. By night, we’re lying in bed, rehashing our fears, our anxiety, our anger.

To find a road of righteousness and peace, we need to flip the script:

Get up in the morning and pour out your fears. God is not afraid of your heart or surprised by your doubts. Spill your anxieties on to the page or into your prayers. Begin with the person you truly are.

Go to bed at night and tell the truth. Read scripture aloud. Memorize God’s promises. Meditate on what’s eternal and beautiful and perfect. End with the person you want to be.

Wrap your feelings in truth, not your truth in your feelings.

Lean not on your own understanding, and He will make your paths straight.