By Eddie Pipkin

Recently I was gifted a revelation about a home maintenance problem that had hounded me for months.  This minor glitch had been a headache small enough that I kept not putting in the effort to fix it, but regular enough to irritate me three or four times a week.  It was one of those nagging things that seemed like it should have been simple to solve but had proven resistant to straightforward measures – one of those thorn-in-the-side nuisances that had a limited impact in the real world but an outsized impact on my psyche. You know the kind.  They crop up in home life and ministry life.  The joyful occasion of the resolution of this botheration was a real facepalm moment for me, brimming with lessons.  I invite you to benefit from my obliviousness.

So, here’s the insignificant but irritating problem I was having (and it is clearly, as the kids like to say, a ‘first world problem’).  My pool skimmer basket would not seat properly in the pool skimmer.  It was a replacement basket, and it was the right size for the hole, but something about how it made was subtly different from the old one, and it just wouldn’t seat in a way that was snug and locked in.  When the pool pump was on and the suction active, it did its job fine, but when the pump cycled off, the basket inevitably floated up, and lots of times, when the suction resumed, the basket didn’t return to its former working position.  This meant leaves and sticks and debris could circumvent the basket and enter the piping to the pump, a potential problem.

I kept trying to twist it into place by applying more force (a first step for many of us when trying to solve any nuisance problem – we’ll just keep doing the same ineffective thing we were doing before, but more forcefully); I yelled at it a few times (“You have one job, skimmer basket!  One job!); I resolved I would have to buy a replacement for the replacement (but who wants to replace a perfectly good item for which we paid perfectly good money just because it has one itty bitty minor fault – and how would I guarantee not to just replicate the same scenario?).  I was stumped.  I’d go to empty leaves from the basket, find the basket floating askew, probe for a solution intensely for three frustrated minutes, then go on about my day.  Again.  And again.

This is how we are with little, persistently irritating problems, including ministry problems.  They are too small to convene a committee to solve, but maddeningly irritating whenever they are encountered:

  • Why can’t we get whoever is operating the worship slides to advance them on time?
  • Why do we routinely get microphone feedback whenever Suzy does the announcements?
  • Why is the lid never closed on the trash dumpster?
  • Why do we always run out of coffee creamer at the hospitality station?

My days were full and busy.  I did not block out time to deal with the great 2021-22 skimmer basket crisis.  There were plenty enough real problems demanding my attention.

Then, one sunny day that will live on in my memory as the day of ‘the great pool skimmer basket revelation,’ I was down at the local pool supply store buying some chemicals from my pool supply store pal, Jignesh.  Or as I refer to him, Jignesh the Wise.  He was in the back, filling up my liquid chlorine jugs, and when he brought them back out to me, he found me staring bemusedly at the wall rack of replacement skimmer baskets.

“Do you need a skimmer basket,” he asked helpfully.

“Well,” I said sheepishly, since I famously don’t like to bother anybody with what I think may be a dumb question, “I already replaced my old skimmer basket with one of these, but it doesn’t seem to quite fit right.  It floats up out of position.”

And turning towards the register to check me out, without a second thought, but with a confident smile born of decades of helping clueless homeowners navigate the mysteries of pool mastery, he said, “Put a rock in it.”

“Put a rock in it?” I responded.

“Yeah,” he answered.  “Just drop a rock in it to weigh it down, and it will stay in place.”

My burden was lifted!  I was at once dumbfounded at the practical simplicity of this answer and the inability of my creative mind to independently reach the same obvious conclusion, grateful for the mighty Jignesh for sharing his sacred wisdom, embarrassed he’d had to school me, elated that my troubles were over, and, in general, overwhelmed by a sea of conflicting emotions.  I drove home mouthing the magical words over and over . . . “Put a rock in it.  Wow.”

Now, you are no doubt more clever than I, so you probably were shouting at your screen as soon as I posed this hyperbolized problem, “Just put a rock in it, you big dummy!”  Or at least, you figured out the solution early on, because it’s right there in the blog title.  But you take my larger point: we spend too much time wrestling with seemingly unsolvable problems because we refuse to get the right people involved in helping us find workable solutions.

Bad habits leave us smoldering over things that could perhaps be resolved with a little focused work and a little help from our friends:

  • Ego. We are prideful people, and we hate seeking out help for anything that it feels like we should be able to solve for ourselves.
  • Disorganization. We don’t have an effective plan for establishing priorities and working through challenges systematically.  Many of us are just dealing with the latest crisis, working with whatever issue is dramatically pushing to the top, then gasping for breath while we wait to respond to the next crisis.  When we talk about ‘establishing priorities,’ we forget that good management practices don’t only mean that we are able to deal effectively with the highest and most pressing priorities.  They also mean that we have the bandwidth to get to the lesser priorities, too.
  • Desensitization. When we keep ignoring the little irritants (the things that initially irritated us a lot), we become desensitized to them over time, and eventually they become background noise that we don’t even notice.  This is most famously revealed when visitors come calling, and they notice the things that no longer even register for us, such as signage that is wrong (and has been for years), landscaping that is in poor condition, and infrastructure that is in poor repair.

Even as we’re tackling large, complex issues which demand our time and attention, let’s don’t miss the opportunity to go after some low-hanging psychic fruit.  Let’s . . .

  • Make a list of nuisance problems and rank them in importance.
  • Assign the responsibility of dealing with the nuisance problem to an ‘owner.’ In large organizations run by a mix of staff and volunteers, like churches, a problem never gets fixed if it doesn’t have a clear and accountable owner.  Lots of small problems fall between the gaps of responsibility, so the first step is assigning ownership.
  • Establish a timeline. A problem with an open-ended timeline for finding a solution rarely gets solved.  Perhaps your organization will want to have a periodic ‘spring cleaning’ or ‘fall cleaning’ to deal with a bucket of nuisance issues.  Perhaps you let people come up with their own timeline.  It’s establishing a plan with an end point that’s the key.
  • Don’t be sheepish. If you need help, ask for help.  If you don’t know something, ask.
  • Find someone with expertise in the area where you are experiencing the problem and ask them for their expert advice. That’s what wisdom is, experience over time, and here’s a truth that we too often forget: people who have hard-earned experience and expertise love to share it.  They like to help us solve our conundrums!
  • You don’t always even have to ask an expert. Sometimes it’s sufficient just to lay the issue out for someone with a fresh perspective.  Bring the issue up in unlikely places.  Perhaps leverage social media or the church newsletter to ask if anybody wants to help or has expertise or experience in addressing a problem.
  • Don’t dismiss the power of Google and YouTube. My son recently bought his first home, and he and his wife have really leaned into the do-it-yourself home improvement lifestyle.  He built his own dining room table, developing a new skill set almost exclusively by watching online videos (and supplemented by some key advice from some do-it-yourself acquaintances).  [For fun, as I was finishing up this blog, I did something I had never done in my time of skimmer basket woes, I Googled it — “pool skimmer basket floats up” — and voila!]

How are you at solving those nagging, little botherations?  Do you have a consistent plan for getting help as needed and working out solutions?  Or do you allow them to fester until they become a burgeoning blob of impending disaster?  Share some of your own tips for keeping the small things resolved and under control.