The Willingness Prayer
Thriving. I have asked myself so many times over the past year, how can we even use this word? What would thriving even look like now, given the horrors of 2020? Honestly, I have no desire to spiritualize or theologize my way facilely past these questions.
In his book, Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer relays a story of a time when he was on a trip with Outward Bound and he was repelling down a mountainside, bound to one of the guides above him. He faced a deep hole below him and he could not go around it on either side. He froze and his guide called down to him, “If you can’t get out of it, get into it!”
Perhaps we feel like we’re teetering on a mountainside. Maybe for those of us who live alone, we even feel like we don’t have that safety net of being bound to someone who will prevent our fall. The first step amidst these challenging times is to allow the experiences, thoughts and feelings to be. That doesn’t mean that we like our situation. That doesn’t mean that we would choose our situation. It means that we recognize, whether we like it or not, it is. (I resist using the word ‘acceptance’ here as many others might, as for me it implies a warmer, more passive feeling toward the experience.)
Allowing can actually be an empowering first response to difficult situations as we willingly make space for the hard times. Russ Harris, in The Happiness Trap, refers to this as expansion. Expansion is “making room for unpleasant feelings and sensations instead of trying to suppress them or push them away.” Once we allow, we can see the reality of the situation as it is. We can observe it and watch it. We can be curious and see it as something that is separate from us and yet as something that impacts us. We can make decisions about which actions we should take, if any.
When it comes to considering actions taken in response to serious challenges, I have always loved Philippians 1:6. “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” During a time of such incredible difficulties, from the personal to the global, it is ever more important to remember to have some healthy detachment from the outcomes of whatever actions we might take. For me, it has always been important to know that whatever I do, however good my intention might be, however much I might want to reach a certain goal or to bring change to a situation, the completion, the fullness, lies in God’s hands. We can say to God, “Okay, I’ve done my part. The rest is up to you.”
While no easy response to the hardships of our time exists, here is my take on the serenity prayer for uncertain times – a prayer for willingness. God, grant me the willingness to allow the things I cannot change, the courage to impact the things I can and the wisdom to leave the outcome in your hands.
A note to commentators: Marian Diaz serves as a mother of four children and as an educator, a spiritual director and a life coach for professionals in Catholic ministerial contexts.