Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.
This, of course, is a very famous proverb. It teaches an important principle about how a person in need is benefited more by improving their faculties than by just improving their immediate situation. But while the principle is obviously true the proper execution of it remains a hotly contested subject.
Some say that giving beggars a handout makes them reliant on an unhealthy system. Others say it is hard for a beggar to care about improving their situation over time when their belly is empty today. So where is the line between teaching someone and becoming their crutch?
Well the problem with debates like these is how they seek a one-size-fits-all solution to a very nuanced problem. Good principles can be applied universally, but the execution of them will always be individual. The correct way to teach Jack to fish will be different from the correct way to teach Jane. Jane might flourish best when learning with a full belly, while Jack might need his hunger to motivate him.
It is better to help people now, even imperfectly, than to wait until you are perfect. Just use your best judgment today and then be ready to adapt your methods as needed.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures
He restoreth my soul
He preparest a table before me
He anointest my head with oil
My cup runneth over
I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever
Psalm 23 describes what is the great desire of us all: to feel so meticulously cared for by the Lord, so provided for in all our needs. Each of us should feel that He really is our good shepherd.
But there can be barriers to receiving such opulent care. The Lord cannot be our caring shepherd if we do not elect to be His sheep. And we fail to be His sheep when we are not willing to fully rely on Him.
This might come in the form of depending on the testimony of others instead of seeking out our own. When we believe simply because our parents or pastor believed, then we make them into our shepherd instead, depending on them as an intermediary between us and God. This might also come in the form of saying we do not need anyone. We are our own shepherd, already having all the answers and perfectly capable of providing for ourselves. This mentality pushes away anyone, God included, who might have been a help to us.
Of course friends and mentors are good, and self-reliance is good, too. But each can be taken to an excess. Better to have each built on the foundation of our relationship to God and not the other way around.
And, behold, there came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue: and he fell down at Jesus’ feet, and besought him that he would come into his house:
For he had one only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she lay a dying. But as he went the people thronged him.
And when he came into the house, he suffered no man to go in, save Peter, and James, and John, and the father and the mother of the maiden.
And all wept, and bewailed her: but he said, Weep not; she is not dead, but sleepeth.
And they laughed him to scorn, knowing that she was dead.
And he put them all out, and took her by the hand, and called, saying, Maid, arise.
And her spirit came again, and she arose straightway: and he commanded to give her meat.
There came Jairus, and he fell down at Jesus’ feet, and besought him that he would come: for he had one only daughter, and she lay a dying.
And he took her by the hand, and called, saying, Maid, arise. And her spirit came again, and she arose straightway.
There is an a lesson in this story that is essential for all parents everywhere. Jairus is already a faithful man, he was a spiritual leader in his synagogue, but when his daughter was in the most dire straits he went directly to the source for help.
Of course it is natural for us parents to want to solve our children’s every problem, to answer their every question, to be everything that they need us to be. But sooner or later there are problems that we will never be able to help them out with. The most important things in life are beyond any mortal power to resolve.
And so it is important as parents that we, like Jairus, bring the savior into the room with our child. Even if we can resolve today’s matter by ourselves, now and again we should acquaint our sons and daughters with the one who can resolve all matters. Then they will know where to go when we are unavailable or insufficient.