What’s Your Problem

It was midsummer. I noticed some sections of the front lawn were looking brown. This was my first year in my house in Utah so I didn’t know what to expect. Maybe it was due to the stifling summer heat. Maybe regular watering wasn’t enough. In these scorching conditions, I was willing to put up with an imperfect lawn rather than overuse water. Still, it had been doing well up until recently.

I let it go for another couple of days before noticing the problem was getting worse. I walked around my property and observed that other areas of the lawn were as green as ever. That was when I realized there must be a problem with my sprinklers. On the sprinkler control panel, I tested out each station. Three stations worked, and five were not working at all. This was valuable data from which I could form a conclusion: A malfunctioning sprinkler system was the cause of the brown grass. This led me to other questions: What was the cause of the sprinkler system not working? They were all functioning at the beginning of the summer. What had happened between then and now?

Believe it or not, the subject of this post is not so much about solving lawn and sprinkler mysteries. It’s about conflict resolution through the atonement of Jesus Christ. In order to do that more effectively, we need to understand how to apply what he has already told us about how to access his atoning power to solve our problems and obtain our desires within the boundaries that he has set. Most of my readers already know how to generally do this. I hope to do what others have done for me: serve as your assistant when you’re struggling to apply what you know to a specific complicated conflict by describing my specific conflict resolution stories.

I do pray about home repair and improvement. The scriptures tell us to pray for our flocks and our crops of the fields (Alma 34:17-27). I see that as a metaphor for praying over my sprinkler system and lawn, my GFCI outlets and breaker boxes, and my trees and bushes. For example, I have a huge willow tree in my backyard that looked like it was dying last month. The top had lost a lot of leaves in a sudden strong windstorm. I love that tree and grieved over it, not knowing if I could do anything to save it. It took many years for it to grow into a Whomping-Willow-Beauty shade tree. It’s not something that can be replaced with money alone like a dishwasher or a lamp. So I prayed for it. I prayed with heart-felt desire every time I saw it. Much to my surprise and utter gratitude to God, within a few weeks I noticed the leaves on the top were growing back and it returned to full health. I’m sure my praying for it wasn’t the only cause (independent variable) for its recovery but I do know that God cares about the things we care about so it is my practice to pray and act believing God and I are important independent variables in all my relationships and responsibilities.

But more important than houses and yards and trees, are our relationships with God and our family. I like to compare and contrast the systemic conflicts around my house with more intangible and sometimes complicated relationship conflicts. In doing so, I’ve learned more about resolving these conflicts through the atonement of Jesus Christ.

So let’s examine and apply the conflict with my lawn and sprinkler system. Through my own observations, I knew that there was not a conflict a few weeks before, but now there was. Something had changed. I believed it was possible to find out what it was and had hoped that I could fix it.  Similarly, if there was a time in our life when we were feeling just fine spiritually and emotionally and now we’re not, we can understand that something has happened to cause this change. If we believe that it is possible to find the cause and repair it, we are believing in Jesus Christ and his atonement.

At this point, it would have been good to pray for guidance. I can’t remember doing that for this particular conflict, but the scriptures say, “that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform anything unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul” (2 Nephi 32:9). Whatever our investigation, we can begin it with a prayer so our Savior will guide us, our effort will be effective, and we will learn valuable lessons that can be applied to other areas of our life.

With my lawn, I took time to regularly make observations, which enabled me to become aware of the problem. Some sections of the grass were brown and others weren’t. Likewise, in our life, we need to make regular observations of our relationships. When conflicts arise, we note that there may be some relationships that are still working well but others that are not. We may feel balanced sometimes and at other times we don’t. We need to write down our observations as faithfully as a scientist. Identifying what is working and what is not is an integral step to solving the problem.

I was able to work on my lawn sprinkler conflict without having to keep a record of my observations, hypotheses, and conclusions. I didn’t write down my independent and dependent variables, keep a data table, or make a graph. But for more complicated problems, which have a tendency to confuse me, I have done this. Keeping an organized record reduces our chances of getting lost and experiencing an overwhelming degree of fear. Additionally, I show God how much I believe in resolution processes, how much I desire to resolve this particular conflict, and how much I value being a part of that process. As my part of the sacrifice, I put in time and effort to systematically do what I can to solve problems. It is my understanding that when we engage in conflict resolution processes with real intent, using the intelligence God has already given us, the atonement of Jesus Christ is at work.

The overall goal of conflict resolution is to identify the cause of conflict in a system that normally functions sustainably. The conflict is the thing we don’t desire to happen in a system yet it is happening anyway. It is causing the system to malfunction. Thus the goal is to search for the cause. We form a hypothesis. My first hypothesis was that the hot summer weather (independent variable) was causing the grass to die (dependent variable). I assumed it was a normal result for the grass to become dryer this time of year even though it was getting water. Since this was my first summer in this house, I didn’t know what to expect.

Correspondingly, we may form a hypothesis that the way we feel spiritually or emotionally is the way everyone feels. Or we may think a problem we’re experiencing is just a normal part of aging and there’s nothing we can do about it. We may also think that having ongoing conflicts in relationships is where all relationships end up over time. Since this is our first time on earth going through these challenges, being this age, and having these experiences, we most likely don’t know what to expect. We may initially think the only solution is to grin and bear it. While this may end up being the case, my opinion is that we shouldn’t settle for this solution until we have exhausted all others. We can know that settling for the grinning-and-bearing-it solution is not what the Lord would have us do if the problem increases in severity to the point we cannot continue living without going to unhealthy sources for sustainability. He said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly of heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt 11:28-30).

My second hypothesis was that the malfunctioning of my sprinkler system was the cause of the brown grass. I checked out the control panel. In the same way, when we look for causes that are within our control to change or set to rights, we are doing what the Savior instructed us to do when he said, “First cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of your brother’s eye” (Matt 7:5). This is a general conflict resolution skill that can be applied to any situation. He instructs us to first examine what is within our agency to change or repair before we attribute the cause to sources outside of our control. These other sources may indeed be part of it, but if we make it our priority to fix what we are responsible for first, we either fix the problem or eliminate that variable as a cause in our investigation.  “And thus we see, that there was a time granted unto man to repent, yea, a probationary time, a time to repent and serve God” (Alma 42:4).

When I work to resolve conflicts around the house or yard I usually form a few hypotheses and choose the best one to test first. But it is critical that we test only one independent variable at a time and remember and/or record our findings. If we change more than one variable, we cannot be sure of the true cause of the conflict. Even if our shoot‘em-all-up approach works, we may someday end up with the same conflict again and still not know how to resolve it.

After verifying that the control panel was working just fine, I eliminated that variable as a cause. I then had to look for the cause behind that: In a sprinkler system, the control panel wires connect to the irrigation valve boxes. That was my next destination. Can you guess what was causing the problem yet? You probably have a hypothesis if you’ve had experience with your own sprinkler system. In the next post, I’ll tell you what I found out while we analyze some more conflict resolution strategies.

For now, here’s a summary of the steps:

  1. Pray for your property, physical and spiritual health (relationship with God), and your relationships with your spouse, children, extended family members, and community.
  2. Make routine observations of each of these systems/relationships and keep an organized record.
  3. If you notice a problem increasing in severity, start the conflict resolution process with a prayer, believing that you will find the cause and be able to fix it.
  4. Estimate when the problem started to occur.
  5. Make a list of the possible causes (your hypotheses), things that could have changed between the time it was functioning properly until now.
  6. Test out one variable at a time in order to identify the problem or eliminate it as a cause
  7. Record your data – what you find when you test your results (e.g. 3 out of 8 of my sprinklers were not working).

Here’s a link to the next post (which is a video) in this series: The Parable of the Broken Sprinkler