Updated: Oct 20
The reality of life’s fragility descended on all of us this year. It seems no aspect of our existence escaped unscathed. Work, family life, health, finances, race relations, even our political process, have or continue to be rocked by uncertainty.
Constant variability and tension wear us down. And those of us trying to shield or help children deal with the changes bear an extra weight of mental and physical exhaustion. Masks, play dates, virtual or in-person school? Things we once gave no thought are now fraught with questions and no clear answers. I frequently have to remind myself there is a reason why I am ready for bed at 9pm!
My biggest stressor has been concern for the safety and emotional well-being of my elderly parents. Lockdowns keep them safe from COVID-19, but not seeing loved ones can crush their spirits. We have opted for outdoor gatherings or windows open and the air filter on, and masking up when we are all in the same car. Others have higher or lower risk tolerances and have chosen what seems to be the least worst option for their families.
Even writing about all this makes me tense!
Likely, you’ve heard or read a shortened version of Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer. Here is one iteration of the full version composed almost 90 years ago.
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.
Living one day at a time,
enjoying one moment at a time,
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace.
Taking, as Jesus 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;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
What jumps out at you in this prayer? The highlights for me are: “the things I cannot change,” “taking … this sinful world as it is,” “surrender to His will,” and “reasonably happy.”
I am a doer. For Enneagram adherents, I relate to a One with a Nine wing (PBWN’s Lauren Shippy, a One herself, calls this “the not fun one”). In my professional life, doing worked really well for me. Before deciding to stay home with my daughter, I had an interesting, challenging and fun career that brought me to six continents (I actually tried to get myself to Antarctica to hit all seven!) and broadened my horizons on so many levels.
But my works-based approach to life didn’t cut it interpersonally or with God. Instead of coming to Him and others vulnerably with my weakness, I came with a “what more can I do to make this work?!” attitude.
I would never have told you that I actually believed that “God helps those who help themselves.” But I lived that way, thinking that doing and being good was how I pleased God and made my life progress. After years of hearing about God’s grace, it finally set up residence in my heart!
Giving grace to myself helped me give grace to others. Before, I assumed they lived their lives with my same attitude and sometimes approached them with “here’s what you can do to make our relationship better. ” Or I just seethed with resentment because I was too afraid to tell them (my Enneagram Nine wing is strong). I think deep down I knew for a while that neither reaction was healthy, but the first step to changing was self awareness.
God used marriage hardships and the development of authentic friendships to show me I can acknowledge my own short comings, but I can’t control how others deal with theirs. That surrender lifted a big weight and the freedom it brought filled me with hope.
It seems paradoxical to consider that hope and surrender can coexist in the same heart. Hope beams brightly full of potential and fulfillment. Surrender smacks of defeat, helplessness and resignation of any expectation. God’s paradoxes used to frustrate me, but now I see that life makes much more sense by acknowledging them. Plus, I think the surrender God asks of us boils down to trust, though sometimes I do it begrudgingly. Ah, God’s grace!
A scripture close to my heart is Isaiah 26:3: “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” (New Living Translation)
While the world descends further into uncertainly, peace in our circumstances becomes more elusive. But God proves Himself again and again as rock solid and the only source of true peace.
I am still tempted to rely on my capabilities to solve problems rather than trust God with them. But the expansiveness and randomness of COVID-19, like the stories of cautious people who got it or the healthy, young person who it killed, or the humility that comes with realizing I have a lot to learn about the experience of people of color in our country before I make any judgements, force a decision — surrender, trust and openness or falling back on old coping mechanisms and thought patterns?
I am far easier on myself when I do fail and that is such a relief! Knowing He is at work and that He cares fills my life with joy, which is much better than being “reasonably happy.”
Jill Braden Balderas has lived in Palm Beach County for seven years. She’s a multimedia journalist who's covered health, medicine and policy on six continents and has undergraduate degrees in Spanish and psychology from The University of Georgia and a master of public health in epidemiology from The George Washington University. She's been married to Israel Balderas for more than 20 years and they have one daughter. Jill loves to practice hospitality, announce every time a bird comes to the feeder, and plant flowers that invite butterflies to lay their eggs and sip nectar.