“Butterflies come from what?” we ask as children. “A caterpillar? No way!” Life is full of paradoxes. It’s fun to observe dog owners who proudly show off their obedient pets. I wonder who trained whom. The “owner” pets when the dog sidles up; the “owner” opens the door when the dog whimpers & scratches; the “owner” is usually persuaded by sad eyes to let the pet on the sofa or the bed, even when it is forbidden. Hmm.
Thinking that we have control over our lives is another paradox. Frankly, I like to pretend that I do have some say in my life because when I feel out of control, I feel anxious and I don’t like it. Sometimes I wonder, “Do we choose our parents, or our bodies, or at which social level we are born? Don’t we exist on a tiny planet, in a small solar system, in a gigantic galaxy, in boundless space…? How much control can I realistically have?”
Two famous prayers help me to address the matter of control. The Serenity Prayer attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr implies three great questions. “How do I live with what I cannot control?” “How do I change what is within my reach?” “How do I know the difference?” As humans, whether we recognize it or not, we reply to these questions every day. Addressing these issues is really the heart of psychotherapy!
The second is the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
Taking for granted that hatred, injury, doubt, despair, darkness and sadness are normal parts of life (“Life isn’t fair?”), the prayer then provides responses: love, pardon, faith, hope, light, joy. It ends with three famous paradoxes: “in giving we receive, in pardoning we are pardoned, and in dying we are born to eternal life.” So, I may be a small creature in a huge universe, but I can be generous to those around me. I can forgive and so refuse to perpetuate anger. One day, I can do my part by dying and leaving things to the next generation. Perhaps I can relax when I realize the world is not my responsibility after all.
–Robert Cooke, D.Min.