Have you ever found yourself feeling really weighed down and anxious about a situation that seemingly you have no control over? It is an ugly feeling that seems to gnaw away, sometimes quietly and other times quite overtly, but all the while bringing a general sense of dis-ease. This is a very real form of stress and it is an insidious one because while there are plenty of situations that we have some control over (and, therefore, power to make change), these kinds of issues we don't.
Perhaps you have experienced a situation in your own life where something happened that was not necessarily a direct result of your action but out of your control - illness, accident, the loss of a loved one, loss of work or a betrayal. Many of these situations just happen and as crushing as they are, there is often little we can do about them. However, there may be things we can do in the shadow of these situations that can go a long way to leaving behind the should'ves, could'ves and walking into better health emotionally and spiritually.
We always have the choice as to how we will respond to those things in which we have no control over. It has been my experience that healthy mourning, a decision to forgive others (and perhaps ourselves), and to choose to seek out life in the aftermath has been a proven path through the maze of emotions. It has also been my experience that there is a ready source of love and grace to walk through it by looking to God and with the help of a few faithful, forgiving friends.
Then there are those issues involving other people. I have some friends who are experiencing a number of significant challenges. As such, they have asked me to walk along side them through these issues and give some counsel, support and be a mirror for them as they journey through these situations. While I can walk alongside them through this journey, I can not walk the journey for them. I find, if I am not careful, I can begin to feel the stress of their situation. If I allow this stress to take hold and blossom, I can find myself caught up with anxiety and sometimes anger about my friends and their circumstance. This anger is because in getting caught in the current of emotion of their journey I experience a sense of powerlessness. Powerlessness because I actually have no power to make a change in the situation.
I have a general rule as I share life with folks, I cannot (must not) take responsibility for things that are 1) not in my power to change and 2) the responsibility of others to change in their own situation. The first is quite obvious, to take responsibility for things that you have no power to change will lock you into paralysis and a deepening sense of despair. The second is a little more subtle because it often masquerades as kindness or mercy. When we rescue others, we in effect usurp their own power of choice, responsibility and self-development. This in effect will make people dependent in an unhealthy way upon us. Leaders, pay attention here because this is fertile ground for co-dependence. If you have a need to be needed you will often be tempted to take on unhealthy responsibility thus poisoning you, the other person and eventually your relationship.
Recognizing and Shedding False Responsibility:
1) Is this really my problem to solve? If no - let it go! This doesn't mean we are not genuinely empathetic, but we do not own that which is not ours to own!
2) Do I have the power to make changes? If no - let it go! This may mean a simple acceptance of the situation and its realities. This comes with a choice to live well - with character and to walk through, to endure by the grace of God.
3) Is it my place to make the change? If no - let it go! We can be responsible to love and care for others but not for others choices, actions and the consequences.
4) As you walk through this I find it helpful to reflect on the prayer used in Alcoholic Anonymous - The Serenity Prayer
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.
The second part of this prayer is a wonderful bit of wisdom as it pertains to how we walk this out in real life. It is a trust of the promised faithful presence of a loving God who is genuinely for and with us through every moment of each day. Even the difficult things. Trusting that God will make all things right in the fullness of time.
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
One of the most difficult things in writing in this format is for people to think that challenges are overcome in under 1000 words. We all know these issues are not as neat and tidy. This article (and many others) is not to be a silver bullet but perhaps a small starting place.