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A Slice Of Life To Go is an online Christian blog written by Todd Thompson. It encourages people to see the beauty in ordinary moments and to know God’s unconditional, unfailing love in everyday life.

Smoke

March 18th, 2013

One summer during my high school years my parents did a remodel on our basement. It was an old farm house and the ceilings down there were already lower than normal. My Dad gave the construction crew specific instructions as to how much dirt they’d need to dig out to make sure there was enough head room before pouring the new concrete floor.

Either they didn’t listen or weren’t paying attention but they didn’t follow instructions. When Dad walked down there to inspect the finished product, two things happened. His head hit the ceiling and something else hit the fan.

Of course, he made them do the work over at their expense. This meant chipping out the concrete floor, shoveling it out through a small basement window, and digging out more dirt before pouring a new floor. To accomplish this they brought in a big pull behind Denver-Thompson air compressor to power the jackhammer. It was a nasty job. One that could have been avoided had they listened to Dad the first time.

We put our Bobcat skid loader in front of the basement window with the bucket flat so they could shovel the broken concrete in to haul it away. The problem, as I and my cousin Jack saw it, was that when my Dad wasn’t around the two guys in the basement were doing more shovel leaning and cigarette smoking than working. So we decided to have some fun.

We selected a smoke bomb from our firecracker and bottle rocket war chest and went upstairs to the attic window, directly above the basement. Jack lit it and I dropped it. It was a perfect shot. It landed behind the bucket of the skid loader. In seconds blue and purple smoke boiled out and down through the basement window.

There was a moment of silence. Then a thunder of work boots up the basement stairs. Jack and I stayed stashed for a bit, laughing our heads off. When we came downstairs one guy was on the phone with his boss. “We don’t know what happened. But it must have overheated. The smoke was terrible.” The way he pulled the phone away from his ear told us the boss was not happy about this. Outside, the other guy was standing with a garden hose, frantically spraying down every inch of the compressor.

Jack and I got in the truck and drove down the road to tend to our chores, satisfied we’d taught these guys a lesson. They never did figure out the source of the smoke. For all we knew, they kept a garden hose next to the compressor on every job after that.

One of the first rules of professional counseling is that the presenting problem is rarely the real problem. Little Johnny may be referred to the psychologist for behavior modification because he’s out of control in the classroom. But the real problem is Johnny’s parents are in the middle of a bitter divorce and he doesn’t know how to handle it.

The presenting problem is that Susie isn’t eating enough. She’s bordering on anorexia and her parents can’t get her to see that she needs to gain weight. The real problem is Susie was sexually abused by a family friend several years ago and she is terrified to talk about it.

The presenting problem is rarely the real problem. It’s true in counseling. And it’s true in our day to day relationships.

Those times when a co-worker been short and terse with you and later you discover it had nothing to do with work and everything to do with the turmoil in her marriage?

Those moments when your spouse gets over the top upset over a broken tool in the garage and later you discover it was misdirected anger toward his boss who always gives criticism and never gives credit?

Those days when it feels like your teenagers wouldn’t talk to you if their pants were on fire and later you realize they’re lost on the bumpy road out of childhood and into adolescence and have no idea how to navigate?

The presenting problem is rarely the real problem.

Which is to say if we don’t make an effort to look past the smoke, we are unlikely to discover what’s really burning.

Look past the smoke. See what’s really burning.

Then extend grace.

Offer a kind word and a listening ear.

And a garden hose, if necessary.

“Anxiety in a person’s heart weighs him down, but an encouraging word brings him joy.” – Proverbs 12:25

Todd A. Thompson – ASliceOfLifeToGo.com