God would surely have known it, for he knows the secrets of every heart (Psalm 44:21 NLT).

Physicians are trained to trace symptoms to their root causes. Then it is the root cause — not just a presenting symptom — that gets treated. We can all be grateful for that. What would happen, for example, if headaches simply got aspirin and belly aches got antacids without further tests?

The obvious answer is that many people would die from the serious underlying diseases behind their relatively minor symptoms. Symptoms are like the red lights that appear on the instrument panel of your car. Don't smash the annoying light. Change the oil or find out why the engine is overheating. To focus on the symptoms rather than what is behind them just isn't very bright.

Without wanting to be unkind, let me try to be clear. We human beings aren't terribly responsible when it comes to the basics of living. Forget belly aches for a minute. Let's talk about financial responsibility, intact families, or spiritual life. Are we treating symptoms or addressing root issues?

A single mom with two children explained why she needed a vacation with her girlfriends. "I'm so stressed out about money!" she said. "My credit card is maxed out, and I am a month behind on my rent. I've just got to have a break." My suggestion was that she forget the vacation, put the money she had saved for it to catch up her rent, and start paying down her credit card by taking a sandwich to work rather than eating lunch at restaurants.

Symptoms are helpful things.
Her problem wasn't stress. It was debt — needless, inexcusable debt that she could take steps to eliminate. She took the advice. She tells me I was a real friend to her by insisting she treat the disease rather than the symptom.

It's not so different with trouble in a marriage or one's spiritual life. "We're not happy and don't laugh like we used to. Maybe we should take a trip together — a second honeymoon, so to speak, and reconnect." No. Find a competent counselor both of you trust, get honest about the things that have broken down, and do your part to try to rebuild the relationship. Get to the root of things.

It's a bit like the fellow who kept telling me he couldn't pray, didn't like to read the Bible, and hated going to church. I knew enough of what was going on to ask the right questions. So he finally started coming clean about the affair and the drugs. It was the beginning of the healing of his spiritual life. He quit talking about trouble praying and not liking church and faced up to an out-of-control life.

Symptoms are helpful things. They let us know something isn't working right and invite us to seek the cause. Then, with the real issues taken care of, it's amazing how quickly the symptoms resolve.