Friday, June 11, 2010

What Can You Change?

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
- Reinhold Niebuhr

This prayer is commonly called the "Serenity Prayer." It has been used widely as a way of helping people to find peace. While I don't believe that the prayer alone can help us find peace, I do believe that it holds some nuggets of truth which can be helpful when we feel "stuck."

Sometimes when we are in the midst of a difficult situation, it is easy to begin to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of what we're facing. We look at the big picture, and we feel like we are facing a giant. Sometimes we are. Many times we are.

One of the things I like to do is to encourage people to break the situation down into manageable chunks. In other words, don't try to solve your problem in one sweep. Instead, is there a part of the problem that you could make a change in order to help with the situation? If there is, then work on that part.

Every year after Christmas, our family takes down our Christmas tree and packs up the lights and ornaments for use the following year. With the following year in mind, I always take the job of carefully winding up the ten strings of lights and placing them in the box so that the following year we just simply unwind them and aren't faced with a tangled mess of lights that can take an hour to untangle.

As careful as I am, each year the lights are completely tangled up and I am found sitting at the kitchen table untangling them. I have become somewhat of an expert.

What I have discovered about untangling lights can be helpful in untangling the situations in our lives.

1) Work on one strand at a time. Catch the end of it and follow it, unloop it, and pull it through until it is completely free from the pile.

In life, what that means is identify a piece of the bigger problem that can be resolved, and work to resolve that. For example, let's say you are dealing with a college age child whose car needs a transmission, but he has no money to fix it and wants you to fix it. You are already stretched to the maximum, and can't help. You may not be able to solve his car problems, but you might be able to get him a bus pass to get him back and forth to college. That is an example of solving one part of the problem. It doesn't fix the whole thing (doesn't fix the transmission), but it eases some of the pain of the situation.

2) Don't get distracted by the pile.

In life, what it means is that you can focus on the part of the problem that you are currently working on instead of worrying about whether you will solve the big problem. If you spend your time focusing only on the big problem, you will be back at being overwhelmed again.

3) Have patience.

Problems don't happen overnight. Even problems that appear out of nowhere have usually been brewing for a long time. It takes time to solve problems, and it takes a lot of work. Keep your eye on what you CAN do, and don't fret about what you can't.

4) Untangling is work. Untangling doesn't just magically happen on its own.

What that means in life is that it will take work to make changes that can help alleviate a difficult situation. Sometimes the changes in themselves are painful. Sometimes the changes can even seem to make things worse at first. Keep going. Trust God and trust His voice leading you and directing you.

In most every situation there are changes which can be made. Look for those things, and begin to do the work. You will be surprised that at some point those changes will pay off and you'll find yourself in a healthier place!

Try it!