Monday, May 7, 2012

True Cliches

“Don’t fight it; just accept it.”

Those words were quoted ad nauseum by Marian Stewart in my Freshman Algebra class in high school. Algebra was like a foreign language to me, and my logical mind needed to understand it, not just do it! Many of us who struggled in her class questioned things like, “What IS X? What does it mean? Why do you call it X and Y?” And often, when there was no logical answer that would satisfy us, she just looked at us with her usual patience and sense of humor, shrugged, and said, “Don’t fight it; just accept it.”

Later, the Serenity Prayer expressed some of the same truths that Mrs. Stewart understood. Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “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.”

Still later, my son-in-law often theorized, “It is what it is.”  

An even earlier wise person, King Solomon, wrote in Ecclesiastes: “I have always tried my best to let wisdom guide my thoughts and actions. I said to myself, ‘I am determined to be wise.’ But it didn’t work. Wisdom is always distant and difficult to find. I searched everywhere, determined to find wisdom and to understand the reason for things.” (New Living Translation, Ecclesiastes 7:23-25)

All the wise people I have quoted were striving to understand life, to get a grasp of what they needed to know. Yet each of them understood that we have our limitations. There are some things we will never understand. Some things are beyond our ability to fix. We can change some things to make our world better, but much of it is beyond our ability to control, and most of us hate being out of control and not fully understanding where we are headed.

There is probably more anger and frustration generated from our helplessness than almost anything else. We want to know! Most of us want to direct the course of our lives and navigate our way to a safe harbor where everything is peaceful, plentiful, and comfortable, where we know exactly what is coming and we have no surprises in store. When we learn that we aren’t the ones at the helm, we generally are angry and fearful, grasping for whatever particles of our lives that we can manage to control. We have little patience with issues that don’t have a concrete answer or solution. I quote the proverbial “we”, but really it is the literary “I” that is under discussion, for these are all things that bring me anxiety.

The quotes I mentioned at the beginning are probably best summed up with the Serenity Prayer. The balance I need (and probably you do, too) comes when I can look at my circumstances, discern the areas where I can improve or make things better, and then pray for the courage and discipline to make those changes. But beyond that, I hope and pray God gives me the discernment to “pick my battles”. I want to be wise enough to see what is beyond my ability to change, and to follow Mrs. Stewart’s advice: “Don’t fight it; just accept it.”

Copyright 2012

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