“No problem” {…and the value of “You’re Welcome”}

If there’s anything a parent learns quickly, it is that you cannot ignore the problem child. 

Every family, be they of the nuclear, work, church, or neighborhood variety, will have their problems.  Those problems will come in all shapes and sizes. Some will be tiny irritants.  Others super-sized.  They will come with loud and quiet voices.  They will look like you…and me.  They will be you…and me.  We–every single human–are a problem.

Yet, here we are, living in a problem-free loving place.  We don’t want problems.   We don’t want to be inconvenienced.   A charmed life is a problem-free life.  We’re fast-tracking through our happiest-place-on-earth life.

And we’re so incredibly frustrated when a problem child interrupts the ride.

Mark Labberton in his book The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor addresses the societal challenge brought about by our “no problem” mentality to relationships.  He notes the loss of “you’re welcome” to acts of kindness or generosity.  What do we most commonly say when someone tells us “thank you?”  “Not a problem.”

What do we really mean by that?  “It didn’t cost me anything–because you are not worth a cost.”  “It didn’t mean anything to me–because you don’t have that kind of value to me?”

Do you see what we’ve done? We’ve changed the rules of the game–Play nice.  Don’t ruffle feathers. Don’t cause waves.  As Labberton says, “That’s just the nonobligating, sacrifice-free zone we like.”  Keep the cost of relationship as low as possible.  Is that what Jesus really meant when He commanded us to love one another?

And it’s fake.  Why?  Because we don’t want to admit that we are a problem.

  “Those of us on this side of things need to admit that part of what influences our lives is that we just don’t want to be a problem.  We don’t want the label of being told we are one.  We want to avoid being the cause of eye-rolling or hand-wringing.  So ‘not a problem’ when said to us, is a statement of success.  It’s like a cultural blessing:  ‘You didn’t irritate me, inconvenience me, degrade or demean me.’  Phew!”  (Labberton)

I really struggle with this.  I like that cultural blessing.  If there were an invisibility cloak for problems, I would not only never leave the house without it, I would pass them out for free.   What was really so wrong with Stepford?   In fact, just last night I spoke an apology to my husband for inconveniencing him and his reply is the point we all have to get, “You’re worth it.” 

How someone enters our problems communicates value.  “I value you enough to let you be a problem to me.  My relationship with you is going to inconvenience me and at times, probably irritate me, but you are worth it.”

Labberton says this is where the “no problem” language of the church has veiled the heart of God from us.  God is always saying, “You’re welcome!”  “Be a problem!  The cross will have a solution.  You are worth it.  You are welcome.”

It is in entering this nature of God’s heart that we are able to face the reality of truly loving one another.  It will give us the resolve we need to meet the needs of the defenseless.  It will give us the conviction we need to contend for relationships that are broken.  It will give us the freedom to both be loved as a problem and as a solution to someone else’s problem.

So today when someone says “thank you,” please, because of the love of God say, “You’re welcome.”   

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