The Reason for Your Problems

I received a call yesterday: my wife took our youngest daughter swimming, and our five-year old wandered from the three foot deep section of the pool to the four foot deep section.

The water was over her head.

My wife recounted how, completely clothed and with preternatural calmness, she walked into the pool and retrieved our daughter while she dipped underwater. The call was a cinematic comedy, save for the tragedy at the end when my wife recalled that she had her phone in her pocket.

The phone which I had taken the insurance off two weeks prior in an effort to save money.

I want to live my life in a continual state of equilibrium and peace, to find places to be thankful (my daughter didn’t die!) amidst the innumerable small setbacks that I encounter each day. Instead, however, I grew quiet and distant, running the numbers of how much we owed on the phone.

Earlier this week, I had the chance to review story structure. One of the fundamental elements of story structure is the interplay between the external problem — the bad guy kidnapped the girl — which is meant to surface the internal problem — the hero’s mother died when he was young, and he blames himself.

The external problem forces the hero to face his internal problem, mainly (as in almost all movies): does he have what it takes to save the day?

My wager, however, is one of two options. Either story structure, and the interplay between external and internal problems, is a cultural construct that is an ingrained method to understanding our lives, or it is a metaphysical reality that humans have discovered.

Either way, whether it is a method or reality itself, my wager is that applying story structure to my life brings clarity. Or, the external problems in my life are meant to manifest the internal. Or, most relevant, the sudden financial setback manifests what’s going on internally in me.

Here, I see that it’s not the setback that upsets me — it’s my unique bundle of neuroses around money, my miser-like ways, my inability to trust (either myself, the Universe, God — depending on your theology) that we have enough. We are some of the wealthiest people in the history of the world merely by the fact that we have two cars, and an iPhone that even needs replacing.

The external problem manifests the internal.

Please don’t misunderstand me to be saying that our external problems are good, or even there for a “reason,” as if they are a series of lessons for us to learn. But insofar as it is up to me, or to us, our external problems are chances to show us what’s going on inside of our own heads and hearts.

And, just as it does to the summer blockbuster, this awareness — what is going on inside — brings new depth and color to my story.

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