What a strange title for an article in a ladies’ paper! But do you realize you incorporate high-level mathematics in your daily life? One role mathematicians play is creating and editing formulas to ensure optimal outcomes to a problem. For example, what is the shortest route for a traveling salesman that will include all towns he wishes to visit without retracing his steps? Initially, this problem was impossible, but when certain conditions were relaxed, a possible route emerged. Don’t get lost in the details—let’s look at what the Bible has to say about optimization.
Whether you realize it or not, you have been optimizing your day’s activities since the moment you awoke this morning. Each decision you made purposefully was intended to produce the most desirable outcome. Did you read your Bible first or take a shower? Why? Perhaps you read your Bible first because you knew the kids would wake soon, and the quiet would dissipate. Or, sans children, did you choose to shower before reading because coherent thoughts are impossible pre-scrub? Either way, you unconsciously optimized your outcome.
Optimization: an act, process, or methodology of making something as fully perfect, functional, or effective as possibleMerriam-Webster
Optimization can be both our greatest asset and our worst stressor. Too often, we find ourselves envisioning an ideal and striving toward it with all our might without realizing that our picture is rooted in self and this world, not in God’s view of the situation. On the other hand, God does command us to redeem the time in our lives. How do we use our natural inclination toward optimization to better fulfill God’s plan for our lives without getting distracted by optimizing nonessentials? Let’s see what God’s Word has to say about it.
Despite a multitude of commands to the Israelite people, God kindly gives us concise summaries of His directives. One of these is found in the words of Micah 6:8—“He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” Christ also summarizes the commands in the short but deep “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.” (Luke 10:27) Nothing new here, but stop to think about it in the context of optimization. Is this really the “solution” you are pursuing or does it sound more like the following scenario?
You have been looking forward to the preaching service all week (good start!) This morning, you picked up ingredients for a new recipe for supper (because surely the 21st century virtuous woman has a new recipe in the rotation each week, right? hmm…). Now, you struggle through the recipe, rushing a little because the errands this afternoon took a little longer than planned, and you still have to fix the bad hair day (virtuous woman—always looked great, right? hmm…) and stop for a coffee on the way to church (because coffee is always a good idea!). Unfortunately, dinner turns out meh and your hair is rebellious, making you late, but you just know that you can get the coffee and make it to church on time. In the end, you rush in during the first song, realizing as you do that you forgot the pumpkin bread you made for a dear elderly couple.
Now, if this situation had not gone completely awry—if dinner had turned out GBD (golden-brown and delicious), your hair cooperated, and you were in your seat with pumpkin bread and coffee ten minutes before the service—would that have changed this scenario? What I’m getting at is our tendency to picture optimal circumstances from a worldly perspective. Optimization of outward appearance, self-imposed standards of virtuosity, and feel-good experiences (see: coffee—always a good idea) are not what God had in mind when He told us to redeem the time and to love Him with our entire being.
So what should we be optimizing?
Our relationship with God.
Our God-given embassage to the world around us and the little ones entrusted to us. We do this by laying aside the sins and weights which so easily beset us from our flesh and the worldly culture (Hebrew 12:1.) We do this by challenging our thinking (Phil. 4:8). Are our thoughts truly rooted in God’s Word (God’s description of a Godly woman) or in our permutations of God’s picture which actually end up sounding more like a Pinterest board? Finally, we do this by remembering the Christ who enjoined us to “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.”
I hope this article has been an encouragement to you. From time to time, we all become stressed because of optimization. When you find yourself in that moment, reset your eyes on Jesus and His view of your so-called “impossible problem.” When you relax your constraints on how your life should look and instead allow His perfect Word to enter the equation, you will find the solution—the peace of God.
Laura started attending Lehigh Valley Baptist Church as a child when her family moved to the area. For years, her primary passion was in nursing and furthering her education. In the midst of pursuing a medical degree, God changed her plans and she married Jonathan Snow (read their story here). Now, she has discovered a special fulfillment from being a wife and a mother! Truly, God’s ways are always for our good and for His glory.