I’ve spent hours, days and sometimes years consumed by worries, fears, anger, sadness, disappointment and depression. But lately, I’ve become determined not to waste my energy on things that I personally can’t change or do anything about.
Have I become apathetic? I don’t think so. At least, I don’t think so in the way I generally define apathy.
I wouldn’t say I’m indifferent or uninterested in politics, for example, or without concern about decisions made by our leaders. But, I see no value or point in spending endless hours discussing or fretting about these decisions. Does this mean I won’t exercise the powers that I do have, such as informing my leaders of any concerns or casting my vote? Of course not! I will do what I can do.
And this idea of "doing what I can do" applies to other areas of my life as well. It defines how I want to spend my time, energy and money.
Many people are probably familiar with what is known as the "Serenity Prayer." One abbreviated version is: "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."
Honestly, this is a prayer I’ve not always been comfortable with. I think it’s because I don’t like the idea of there being anything that can’t be changed, and I thought this prayer was suggesting just that.
But it occurs to me that I’ve been leaving out an important word — "I." The stark reality of this hit me. I — me, myself and I — can’t change everything that may need to be changed. It’s either not my job, or to be realistic, I can’t alone do everything that needs to be done. My conclusion from this realization is that most things in life require a community to accomplish all that needs to be achieved. What a relief this has become for me!
Perhaps even Jesus had an understanding that doing what he could do might also mean that there were times when he couldn’t do everything possible. He once said, "No prophet is accepted in his own country." (Luke 4:24) And it was recorded that, "He didn’t do many miracles there because of their hostile indifference." (Matthew 13:58)
I’ve always imagined Jesus as someone who used his energy efficiently and effectively. I don’t think he wasted energy being disappointed, frustrated or depressed that he wasn’t welcomed and accepted in his hometown in the way he was in many others.
I’ve read that the "Serenity Prayer" is a model for humility. And there are many folks who would concur that a good dose of humility is essential in good decision-making.
I can’t help but think that the asking for serenity has something — or maybe everything — to do with humility. Perhaps it’s serenity that would keep us from wasting our energy in futile ways and ultimately would result in our beneficial actions and wise decisions.
Webster defines serenity as "a disposition free from stress or emotion." And I’ve come across many appealing synonyms that I long to imbibe and practice: tranquility, repose, calm, composure, equanimity, steadiness of mind, absence of mental anxiety, and lack of emotional agitation.
Then it’s the antonyms for "serenity" that I consider as that which leads to wasted energy: pandemonium, tumult, turmoil, unrest, uproar, agitation, anxiety, disruption, disturbance, excitement, uptightness, being flustered or perturbed.
Yes, I think Jesus went about his great mission being unaffected by disturbances around him. He remained calm, unruffled, untroubled in every situation that confronted him. This allowed him to maintain his clarity, composure and focus on his mission. And he accomplished much good.
In exploring definitions for serenity and serene, I came across a couple of phrases that continue to intrigue me: "without losing self-possession" and "serenely self-possessed."
Might this "self" be the character Jesus so aptly illustrated by his life example? And might this "self" entail what it takes to solve difficult problems with appropriate and fair means? Something to ponder more about!
All I know is that I want to go about my own life as serenely as possible. And I am finding that to the degree I’m successful, I am making better energy choices, wasting energy less, conserving energy when needed and utilizing my energy in more creative and productive ways.
Annette Bridges is a freelance writer who lives on a north Texas ranch with her husband, John. A mother and former public and homeschool teacher, she doesn’t think her insights are any more special than yours. But she believes we need to share what we’re learning with one another, and we need especially to share our insights with our children! First published by the Dallas Morning News after becoming an empty nester when her daughter left for college in 2001, she has since written weekly columns for numerous websites, newspapers and magazines. Visit her website at http://www.annettebridges.com.