By Norris Burkes
Posted Nov 5, 2017
Even as we were packing to return to the U.S., I was already considering possibilities for our next adventure.
“I want to walk the Appalachian Trail next spring,” I told my patient bride.
“I think your weekly running routine is depriving your brain of badly needed oxygen,” she said.
“Besides,” she added, “We are going to Honduras in January to spend 12 weeks helping our daughter establish children’s libraries there.
I usually give my wife the stink-eye when she dismisses my ideas so quickly, but instead I broke into my best spirit-speak to tell her that she was unlikely to change my ideas on the subject.
“Do you recall that line in the Serenity Prayer that 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 the word “change.” She read my mind. She’s bright that way.
“I’ve prayed for the courage to change my lifestyle, and I did. So now I think I should go on a long, contemplative walk.” “How old are you?” she asked.
I knew where she was trying to take our conversation, but I wasn’t going there. I was on my way to the sporting goods store.
The problem was that I was doing what most people do when they spiritualize their language to justify their own desires. I was paraphrasing the third line of the prayer into something like “God, help me change only what I want to change.“
We can be pretty “courageous” (or in my case maybe foolhardy) when it comes to changing things we don’t like. But the hardest part of the famous prayer is the first part: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.“
We can only pray the first part when we stress the word “accept” in our prayers. In doing so, we commit to a much more difficult course. It’s a course I recommend to many who seek my counsel.
I once counseled a man who wanted advice on how he might persuade his wife to return home. “Concentrate on doing nothing,” I told him.
“If you have a prayer of seeing her come home, you’re going to have to focus on changing yourself, not her.“
He seemed unimpressed at first, but he’s back with his wife today.
Accepting that we are powerless to change others isn’t easy. In fact, I’m rarely satisfied with that answer myself. In my family life, I’d like to force my son to find a job. In my professional life, I’d like a few of my harshest readers to love me or leave me.
When I committed both these concerns to prayer, guess what? The answer I heard was, “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.
That night, I was lying in bed with my wife, still idealizing the hiking idea, when she asked me one last question.
“You obviously never finished the Serenity Prayer, did you?”
“Did you pray the next line of the prayer that asks for wisdom to know the difference between acceptance and change?” She pronounced ”wisdom” like it was a new concept to me.
She knew my real reward for my jogging routine wasn’t the racing medals I could wear on the outside of my shirt, but what I felt on the inside of my body. She’s a smart woman.
Still, I wasn’t going to admit that to her. I kissed her goodnight.
And then I gave her the stink-eye in the dark.
Email: [email protected]. Voicemail 843-608-9715 Twitter @chaplain Read past columns at www.thechaplain.net.