By Rev. Everette Chapman
I recently faced a tough decision, one that offered no perfect choices. Either option portended potential problems, and I was in a quandary. I shared the situation with my friend, Dr. Robert Canoy, Dean of the School of Divinity at Gardner-Webb University. He did not give me the solution; he simply “answered” me by sharing the story about “The 18th Horse.” May I share it with you and then make a few applications.
A farmer died, leaving his seventeen horses to his three sons. When the sons read his Last Will and Testament, they found these provisions:
My eldest son will receive one-half of the seventeen horses.
My middle son will receive one-third of the seventeen horses.
My youngest son will receive one-ninth of the seventeen horses.
Already we can see that there is a major problem. It is impossible to divide seventeen in halves (without cutting a horse apart) or into thirds (same problem) or into ninths (still cutting up a horse). The conundrum created such confusion and frustration with the sons that they began to fight. Finally, realizing that they did not have a solution to the problem, they consulted a neighboring farmer, who was known to be wise and fair.
The old farmer read the Will patiently. After giving careful thought, he brought one of his own horses over and added it to the seventeen, hence making a total of eighteen horses to be divided among the three of them.
The eldest son received one-half of the eighteen horses, i. e., nine horses.
The middle son received one-third of the eighteen horses, i. e., six horses.
The youngest son received one-ninth of the eighteen horses, i. e., two horses.
When you add up the horses that were given to the three sons, you will find that the total is only seventeen, which left one horse unclaimed. That horse belonged to the wise farmer, so he took it back home with him. Problem solved!
The first observation I would like to make is that, like those sons, we sometimes need to find an objective friend to help us work out our problems. This is not the way we normally like to do things, however, is it? We have taught ourselves to be independent, and why should we think that someone else knows better than we do about our own situation? Sometimes, however, an outside, objective viewpoint is most helpful.
The second thought I would like to share is that, if we are the one called upon to be a problem-solver for others, we would do well, like that old farmer, to be willing to make an investment of ourselves in working toward a solution. That may mean that we need to better understand someone else’s situation before giving that person our “expert advice.” It certainly means that we need to truly empathize with the other person, to get inside his skin, to feel her pain, to maintain objectivity.
Persons of faith have another source of wisdom, whether we are the one seeking a solution or the one offering advice. Human wisdom, even the best, most-astute human wisdom is often inadequate life’s problems. James, our Lord’s brother, addressed this issue in the Epistle that bears his name. He writes, “If you lack wisdom, ask of God, who gives to all men generously and does not scold, and it shall be given to you.”
To find a solution, one must believe that a solution exists. Faith declares, “God will always provide a solution, if we ask Him and trust the solution He offers. Peace, all.