Last night, I went with friends to the Ravinia festival up in Highland Park, to have a picnic and listen to the CSO play Tchaikovsky.
It was beautiful weather, with good company, and delicious food…but we were late getting there. And the main parking lot was full. We had to drive to the park-and-ride shuttle lot, which took longer than I’d expected. Then there was a line to get on the bus, and another drive back to the festival. And another line to get in, which stalled when the ticket scanner didn’t operate correctly.
By the time my sister and I got to our place in the park, and met our friends, and sat down with a drink, my shoulders were up by my ears. My forehead felt permanently scrunched, and I had to work hard not to glare at the group next to us, who were talking so loud I couldn’t hear the strains of the symphony.
Everything about my body language, my mood, my general attitude were the exact opposite of the relaxed, convivial atmosphere of the day. I was in total opposition to the fun happening around me, to the intent of the trip.
As many of you know, I’m a 6 on the enneagram, which means I’m always on the lookout for trouble ahead. I make plans, and remake them, and double and triple-check them, to be sure I’m ready for any surprise or problem. And it means that when surprises do happen, and I’m not ready, I can crumple inside. My stress level skyrockets, my blood pressure goes up, and the tension starts shooting down my neck. How could I not have anticipated this? Why didn’t I prepare for this? What’s wrong with me?
COVID, of course, has not helped this tendency of mine. Even though I recognize that we’ve been living in unprecedented times, my brain has still been going on overdrive for the last 18 months, trying to anticipate and plan and prepare. And since I can’t do that well in a situation that changes all the time, I get worn out. Exhausted. Stressed. Even angry.
Kind of like last night, at Ravinia.
I got real wound up before some part of my brain kicked in and reminded me: there are things I can control, and things I can’t. And all of this, right now: the lines, the wait, the traffic…I can’t. I can’t will it to move faster, or will other cars off the road. I can keep feeling terrible about it, or I can accept it.
I realized this morning that it was my own very specific version of the serenity prayer, attributed to 20th-century theologian Reinhold Neibuhr. Many of us probably know the short version, but here is the full and original text:
God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
I realize now, that in the midst of so much I still cannot control – regarding COVID, or the break-in at church, or any number of other things – that I might need to say this prayer every single day.
To remind myself that God is in control, especially when it becomes clear that I am not, and that there is still much joy, much love, and abundant goodness to be found in these complicated, surprising times.
I hope that it might serve as a reminder, and a help, to you too.