"I think God has granted me permission to change my hair color," I said, as I stood primping my graying hair.
"If you're hearing God talk to you about hair color, you need to cut back on the caffeine," my wife said.
I usually glare at her when she talks to me that way, but I decided to both elucidate and elaborate.
"You know that line in the serenity prayer where it says, 'God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change and the courage to change the things I can'?"
She rolled her eyes at my elongated enunciation of "change." She knew where this was headed. She's bright that way.
"I've prayed for the courage to change, and I think God says I can change my hair color."
"Aren't you about six weeks from your 50th birthday?"
I knew where she wanted to take this conversation, but I wasn't going there. I was going to my barber.
Like most people who seek to make God say what they want to hear, I was paraphrasing the third line as something like, "God, help me change something that doesn't suit me. Never mind you."
Most of us are pretty "courageous" (or maybe foolhardy) when it comes to changing things we don't like. But the hardest part of that prayer is the first request: "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change."
Enunciating the word "accept" in our prayers will commit us to a much more difficult course.
It's a course I recommend to many who seek my counsel. "The hardest thing to do is nothing," I often say. I shared this wisdom with a man last month who was seeking advice on how he might persuade his wife to return home.
"You can't do anything to make her come back," I told him. "If you have a prayer of seeing her come home, you're going to have to concentrate on changing yourself, not her."
He remained unimpressed with this advice.
Truthfully, I'm rarely satisfied with that answer, either. And lately it seems as if I've been trying to force God to change that answer and help me implement changes in the lives of others.
In my family life, I'd like to force my children to like housework. In my professional life, I'd like a few of my harshest readers to love me or leave me.
I prayed about both those things.
Guess what? God said: "Do nothing. Accept it. There's nothing you can do."
The only changes we can really make are the changes we make in ourselves. If those changes are real and not just simulated, they can have a lasting effect on people. But there is no way we can really change others.
Even a chaplain isn't always thrilled with the answers he gets from God, so I guess that's why I recognized that my hair would be such a simple thing to change.
Maybe I rushed that decision a little too fast.
The next day while my wife was working hard and I was, uh, not, I went to the barber. Let's just say that my hair looks a little better than if it were dipped in shoe polish.
As my wife and I lay in bed that night, she had only one question for me.
"You obviously never finished the serenity prayer, did you?"
"The prayer compares acceptance to change. But, did you pray that last line asking for the wisdom to know the difference?" she asked pronouncing wisdom like it was a new concept to me.
If the lights hadn't been off, she'd have noticed me glaring at her.