Thursday, February 14, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 8: Search Algorithms and Spiritual Growth (Part 2)

Yesterday, I explained two common search algorithms, depth-first search (DFS) and breadth-first search (BFS). I think we tend to take one of these approaches with tasks in our life. For example, I am definitely BFS when it comes to cleaning the house. My course of action can look like: start cleaning desk -> notice dirty dish on desk -> walk to kitchen -> put dirty dish in dishwasher -> notice other dishes in sink -> put other dishes in dishwasher -> notice dirty kitchen floor -> walk to vacuum storage closet -> notice suitcases are unorganized -> organize suitcases -> get out vacuum -> notice dirty carpet in living room -> vacuum living room -> vacuum kitchen -> put dishwasher away -> return to cleaning desk.

When something comes up in the process of dealing with one thing, I give focus to this new thing, and can get chained along. There are problems with this approach. Actually resolving the first thing I was working on isn’t guaranteed to happen, and at the very least, it will take awhile. In addition, if I get cut short, I can still have a lot left undone. If I’m supposed to have cleaned while Kara is away and she comes home early, the house can actually look in worse shape than it was originally. The idea of being cut short reminds me of Jesus’ parables about returning at an unknown hour (Matthew 26:36-51). Since we don’t know when he’s coming back, his prudent advice is to be ready for him anytime. Always have something to show for ourselves. If Kara gets home earlier, it looks a lot better for me to say “I’ve gotten the bathroom and kitchen done but still have the bedroom” than “I have none complete but am in progress with all three”.

I believe this BFS/chained-along feeling carries over to my life with God as well. Frequently, rather than really getting to the root of an issue, question, or subject I get caught up focusing on something else. It can feel like a lot of dabbling, but not much mastering. I know when I've mastered something when I'm able to talk about it with clarity. In a "mastered" state, I can articulate the questions I wrestled with, the process I went through, the outcome I arrived at, and why I arrived there.

I've done good in the past with asking to be given one thing at a time to focus on, but I have admittedly grown lax with this request. My focus has weakened. It's legitimate to ask whether this request to be thrown one thing to study at a time is valid. From an effectiveness standpoint, I think it is. I'm curious to know though how others deal with this. When I'm confronted with a plethora of things in my life to analyze and grow in, I try to take it all on at one time. What do you do? Do you DFS knocking one thing off at a time, or are you BFS like me trying to engage everywhere at once?

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