But lately I am learning again about the limits of my own power. I am learning that I cannot fix things, and that often there is very little I can do to help. I am reminded of the serenity prayer and the breakdown of it that I was taught in my 12-step meetings. Here's the prayer:
God grant met the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
Now the breakdown of that is pretty basic. I had a sponsor once suggest that I hold a mirror up to my nose and look into it. What I can see, she said, was what I could change. Everything on the far side of the mirror? That was stuff beyond my control. Thus, I was given the wisdom to know the difference between what I can change and what I cannot.
Of course I forget sometimes. I reach out and participate in the lives of the people around me, and I begin to think I can do something about their condition. In honesty, I cannot really. I can listen, I can empathize, I can offer my thoughts and opinions, but I cannot change someone else's circumstances. I cannot change that someone got fired. I cannot change that someone was treated badly. I cannot change how they feel about those things. I cannot change much. I can change what goes on internally with me. I can change how I think and feel and respond to the things that go on in my world. But those things? There's not a whole lot I can do to change them.
That said, I am at the very uncomfortable place where I now realize that my only real option is to accept the things I cannot change. If I want any sanity in my life, that is.
Acceptance does not mean approval or endorsement of things that I find abhorrent. It merely means that I accept my own limitations when it comes to what I can change and what I cannot.
I cannot change a friend's depression. I cannot change a friend's discrimination at work. I cannot change the behavior of people I care about, even when what they do makes me want to scream. I cannot make anyone behave in any particular way. I cannot coordinate the world so that people I love don't get hurt. Much as I'd like to, I can't.
So I have to turn the stuff that I can't do over to god and trust that it will be taken care of, even if it is not the way I'd run things.
Now I know this sounds like a jump. From "I can't do x" to "God will take care of x."
It matters not to anyone else that I do this. It is for my sanity alone. There are things that I cannot change/help/fix. Yet they seem to be things that are too important to be left alone to the whims of the fates or the world or whatever. So, in my mind, I turn them over to my higher power for safekeeping. I suppose I could turn them over to Quinn, my small dog, and have the same effect, that being that I am no longer stressed about them, but it seems weird to do that. Some would say that turning things over to god as I understand it is a bit strange, like I am asking my invisible friend to help me out. I suppose it may look like that to many. But this is not about how others feel about this stuff. It is about the fact that my stomach feels like I am drilling holes in it from worrying about the people I love, and knowing that I am powerless to help them. So, I can throw up my hands and say I am powerless and walk away; or I can throw up my hands and say I am powerless, entrust the situation to a being that I have faith in, and step back. Both accomplish the same thing, that my stomach stops trying to dissolve its own lining and I get a little peace.
I know that my faith works for me. I believe in a higher power, a god if you like, that can take care of stuff that I can't. I don't necessarily believe in all of the trappings humans have wrapped around the divine down through the centuries, but I have a quiet faith that there is a higher power and that that higher power can do things that I cannot. Like restore me to sanity. Like alleviate my stress. Like take care of shit.
The people I love know I love them. I tell them regularly. I care about what happens to them. I tell them that, too. I can listen. I can offer ideas. But I cannot remedy things. Not for them. It hurts so much, sometimes. It makes my heart ache and my head ache and my stomach ache and sometimes it feels like my whole body aches in sympathy for what they're going through.
Am I too sensitive? I don't know. I worry that this might be the perfect temperament for burnout in ministry. Or it might be the perfect temperament for effective ministry. I can't tell. I suppose I will learn a great deal about it in school. They must teach you that kind of stuff in ministry school. How not to get eaten alive. How to hold yourself apart from the hurt and pain around you. How to not get your heart broken. I don't know. I've seen plenty of broken hearts lately. And each one hurts me. Each one makes me ache and want to hold the person tight in my arms and rock them and whisper reassuring things into their hair. Some will let me do that. Some will not. So I let it go. I turn it over. I do what I can on my side of the mirror and trust that my higher power will handle what's on the other side.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (people, places and things beyond the limits of my own skin)
Courage to change the things I can (that contained within my own skin)
and wisdom to know the difference (see above.)
Amen. Blessed be.