Breakfast with Solomon - Proverbs 26:17
"Like one who takes a dog by the ears is he who passes by and meddles with strife not belonging to him"
In this proverb, Solomon resorts to an analogy that we can all relate to. If you were going to try and hold a dog or restrain a dog, you would not pick it up by its ears. You will get bit. Solomon paints a picture in our mind that we cannot forget. When we imagine grabbing a dog (any dog) by the ears, we see ourselves being bit. Realize that in the Hebrew culture dogs are not pets; they are scavengers that are seen like we see rats. Dogs in the ancient Hebrew culture were not groomed and pampered houseguests as today in America. Wherever there were a good number of people – like a market or temple – there would be dogs to scavenge off the leftovers. The dogs were always around the dirty places where there were scraps. If you tried to move these dogs, you could get bit. If you tried to move them by pulling on their ears, you would surely get bit. This is the picture that Solomon gives us. Solomon is helping us see that problems hang around certain people and they will not be shooed away easily. If you do have to move a problem out of a person’s life, realize it takes planning, cooperation, and appropriate action. Don’t offer to fix people’s problems unless you are invited and you have their full cooperation.
It took me quite a while to really internalize this proverb, but it is very important. DON’T MESS WITH OTHER PEOPLE’S PROBLEMS even if you know the solution. In the past I would confidently wade into people’s lives telling them the fixes for their problems and how they should straighten out their lives. Do you know what happened in many of those cases? Did people thank me for my incredibly wise advice? Did people appreciate the trouble I went to in order to have them understand why they had the problems they were facing? Did people appreciate the time I spent praying, researching, and implementing solutions to their problems? No, a number of people grew to hate me for my efforts.
Christians are especially bad at violating this proverb. We know that we have the answers to other people’s problems in the Scriptures, and we want to help. So we wade in where we are not invited, and we become enmeshed in other people’s problems and often we become a part of the problem. Other people’s problems are other people’s for a reason. The reasons that someone has problems are not obvious in all cases. So if you jump into solving other people’s problems without understanding and without permission, it will get messy.
It is very common for a person to hear about problems that their children are having or their colleagues at work or neighbors are going through and want to rush in and help. Be very careful when you hear of other people’s problems. Just because you heard about their problems does not mean they want your solutions. Just because you know an answer to their problems does not mean that they want you to tell them.
Just because a person has problems doesn’t mean they want their problems solved. Many people like their problems and wouldn’t know how to function if they weren’t working around, through or over the particular problems that have always been a part of their life. Understand this; there are answers to all the problems that people are facing. And those answers are, in most cases, available; but the person doesn’t take the solution because they have become too comfortable with the problem. Let me give you a few examples:
One time I came across two brothers beating on one another and I offered to help the younger one who was getting beat up. What did the brothers do? They both turned on me. I have watched people who have huge financial problems get windfall solutions and incredible jobs only to have the same exact problems reappear in a few years. The way they live and make decisions creates the problems, and they do not want to change. I have watched single men and women lament the fact that there are no good potential mates out there; and then when a really good attractive, single person is introduced to them, they decline because they didn’t feel enough or something. Then they go and excitedly spend time with the same type of people who they have accurately described as low-lifes.
Interestingly enough my job as a pastor is to mess with other people’s problems: their marriage problems; their personal problems; their financial problems; their family problems; their vocational problems. As a pastor I have to help a person sort out whether they are really in my office to hear and do God’s solutions from the Bible, or are they in my office because they want to complain or because they want an authority to agree with them or because they need to be heard or because they are being forced by someone else or a hundred other non-helpful reason to go see a pastor or a counselor. So now I ask people how badly do they want God’s answers? I ask them before I ever give them God’s answers. If they say they are really interested in God’s answers and will do what the Scripture says, then I give them one clear but small action that comes from God’s Word and tell them to do it and report back when they have done it.
Recently I worked with a couple who came in save their marriage. The husband had said and done some things against his wife personally and the wife was devastated. He had apologized profusely and was at counseling to help repair the breach. When we got down to the root of the issue, it was no longer what he had said – the problem now was that she could not forgive him and let it go. When I began to point out that the real problem now was her lack of forgiveness, she did not want any part of this kind of counseling. She wanted and needed the club of his actions and words, so he could constantly be punished. She was offended that I did not make a big enough deal about what he had said and what he had done. It was offensive and it was wrong, but he had apologized. It was not the federal case she was making it out to be. It had just personally hurt her so badly that she didn’t want to move past it until some unknown amount of groveling had taken place. I let her know that the fate of her marriage was now in her hands, not his. She had to move on and work toward a good marriage. I remember that he was very encouraged by that time and asked if we could schedule another time. I sensed that she was not so pleased, and I suggested that they should talk together about when they would come back. They have never been back. She likes the problem they are now having because it is all about what he said and what he did and how horrible it was. She is ignoring that she is not forgiving. I have learned that I should not volunteer to help people who like their problems.