One of my greatest struggles in this life is that I feel a need to control every variable. It is against my philosophical beliefs to control people, but I still try to control situations. This manifests in mainly three ways.
First, I feel a deep unease when I don’t consider myself prepared for any eventual outcome; the Scout Motto I learned many years ago is “Be Prepared,” and I still take that to heart (even if I don’t remember anything else from Boy Scouts). This starts with over-planning for unlikely eventualities, continues to collecting and keeping any useful thing or tool I might ever need, and it cripplingly ends with avoiding situations for which I don’t feel prepared. Sometimes those reasons are emotional, sometimes they’re financial, but they’re almost always irrational.
Secondly, I can’t resist the urge to fix things (or at least attempt to do so). When someone tells me they have a problem, difficulty or struggle, my first instinct is to try to help them fix it. That someone can also be myself, and the real struggle rears when the problem cannot be solved. If I feel something is wrong in my life, I dwell on possible solutions, over-analyze, and create a wall of inhibitions and doubts between myself and moving forward. Instead of realizing that sometimes the solution to a problem is simply moving on from it, I internalize the problem and create a new, bigger problem in my mind and heart.
Thirdly, I forget myself and my personal philosophy, and I try to influence or convince people to see things my way. This is a great source of shame for me. It is my deepest desire to let people see the world in their own way, and live their life according to their own creed, but sometimes in my need for control I forget that. Instead of openly discussing politics or religion or philosophy with an open mind and heart, I will instinctively dig in my heels and try to impose my will through logical and well-spoken rhetoric. The line between being right or wrong seems to fade away into the background, and I assume that because something is my belief, that makes it right for both myself and for people with whom I’m close.
Sometime in the early 1930s, Reinhold Niebuhr wrote down a prayer that would become perhaps the most famous non-scripture verse in history. Today, we know it as the serenity prayer, and though it has taken on many forms, they all go something like this: “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.”
Recently, something happened in my life that I am having trouble accepting, so this is particularly poignant right now. In a broader sense, though, this prayer is a good reminder of God’s will for every day in our lives. In particular, the first phrase about acceptance rings true to me.
The apostle Paul writes: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22,23). Sometimes I lose sight of what the word “peace” can mean. Often when I think of peace, my mind considers it to be an antonym for violence, and that word calls to mind external conflict. So Paul, like Jesus before him, calls us to be non-violent. This makes sense, and I’m certain that it’s part of what Paul meant.
But, if I turn that ever-so-slightly on its end, though, I can think of unrest in my soul as violence of a sort, and that “serenity to accept the things I cannot change” could be what I need to quell that inner turmoil. Inner peace feels like it has always been just out of my reach, but finding that peace through God may be my most important fruit of Spirit.
This song from MercyMe, off their 2017 album “Lifer,” contains some powerful lyrics, but one of the most affecting and apropos is “God when you choose to leave mountains unmovable/Give me the strength to be able to sing: ‘It is well with my soul.'”
Asking for that strength is critical to my relationship to God, my relationships with people I love, and to my inner peace. I must take to heart the trust that God would not leave a mountain unmovable simply to hurt me or teach me a lesson; His reasons are His alone, and I must have faith that if I give myself over to His will, my current struggles will bring me closer to becoming who He means for me to be.
As Paul writes in Colossians: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (Col 3:15)