Common Denominator


Chalkboard fractions

Do you remember how to add and subtract fractions? My daughter’s initial attempts were frustrating. It seemed obvious to her that 3/4 + 2/3 should equal 5/7. Only it doesn’t. As I explained to her, before the fractions can “talk to each other” they have to be translated into the same “language.” Solving such problems involves a preliminary step. In order to find the “same language”, we need to find the common denominator.

I often feel a grown-up version of her frustration – when life doesn’t work as it “should”, and obvious answers end up being inaccurate. There are times when the choices and behaviors of others cause significant damage to people I love. Or to me. My first response is to distance myself. In disbelief, I ask “How could they have possibly…?” It seems inconceivable. Although such a response may be understandable, if I get stuck there, the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation is virtually impossible.  A mathematical improbability. In order to move forward toward healing of a relationship or within my own heart, translation needs to occur.

I need to find the common denominator.

A friend’s husband makes the devastating choices. Choices that cause near-fatal wounding to the soul of the wife. Choices of ultimate betrayal.

Common denominator: I may not have acted upon my feelings, but in the darkest corners of my heart, I’ve taken the gift of the life I’ve been given for granted.  There have been days when, given the right set of circumstances, I would have traded the life I’ve been given for someone else’s.

An acquaintance is chronically critical of those who view life from a different perspective.

Common denominator: I may not verbalize my opinions, but my frustration and irritation of that person reveal my equally critical and judgmental spirit. Just as they are unequivocally certain of their positioning viewpoint, my arrogant posture justifies my intolerance.

Addiction to alcohol or pornography destroys a life and a family.

Common denominator: My methods of escaping pain (or boredom, or problems) may not be socially unacceptable, yet my self-medication comes in many forms – addiction to work, drive to create a specific environment for my family, and countless other good gifts that I misuse daily. Given a different chemical makeup or personal history, my drugs of choice could have easily been more deadly.

It’s easy to see our inequalities. The ways that we’re different.  The obvious choices that another should be making.

Yet being “right” rarely produces the life of forgiveness and grace to which I’m called.

In order to solve complex problems, we learn to reduce them to their most common simplest form. Each life is a product of circumstance, choice, genetics, and personal history. I know I’ve found common ground when I can look beneath the ways that we’re so very different to discover the fundamental ways that we’re so very much the same.

It takes work and humility to find the common denominator. The place where I see another’s unimaginable messy life as not so different from my own. It’s where I face the truth about the darkness in my own heart. But that’s where we find the freedom to love.

It’s where grace begins.



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Julie SilanderJulie Silander received her BS degree in Business Administration from Furman University, and she held a variety of roles in the banking industry before becoming a full-time mom.  Julie and David have five children, and they have been friends of Barnabas for close to twenty years.  Most recently, Julie has been intimately involved in the strategic planning for The Barnabas Center in preparation for the next phase of the ministry. She spends the bulk of her days schooling their three youngest children.  She also writes regularly at and is a contributor to Story Warren.

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  1. Julie, I love the way you pulled away the blinders so the truth can be clearly seen. Thank you for challenging me to see things as they are.

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