“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
The wise words written by Reinhold Niebuhr, an American Reformed theologian, have been a mainstay for me for decades as a guide through my recovery from workaholism and co-dependence.
Known as the Serenity Prayer, it has also served the numerous clients I have counseled over the years in my psychotherapy practice as they have navigated their recovery from substances.
I bring it to mind whenever events in my life feel like they are out of control. As someone with a solid work ethic and high standards when it comes to being a woman of my word, I do my best to walk my talk. But there are times when all the walking and talking bring me somewhere other than where I intend to go.
Today was one of those days.
I woke up at 5:30 a.m. with a busy-buzzy brain, but had set the alarm for 6:30 so I could get ready to head over to my son and daughter-in-law’s house where I watch my grandkiddos on the morning shift.
Dean is almost three years old (born in January of 2020) and his arrival was the best thing that happened to our family in a year that ushered in the pandemic. Lucy is almost six months old. I tell them often that they are my two favorite people on the planet. When Dean was in utero, my son accurately predicted that this little one would be the center of my universe. When his little sister joined the clan, my universe and heart expanded exponentially.
These two are my primary motivation for being a progressive, left-of-center, social justice-oriented peacemaker. I want a safe, sustainable world for them where they have the right to vote, speak their truth, have body sovereignty, practice their faith, support themselves, have their needs met, and love who they choose.
As I am writing this, it is November 4, 2022—four days from an election that holds the cards on all of those wishes for these precious tiny humans and all of the children on the planet. I wish I could say that I am confident that good will prevail and that the candidates who share my fundamental beliefs will win.
In my area, I see signs that endorse the same folks I do and others for those whose intention is to undo every good thing that has been accomplished by our current administration. This is a world-changing election.
After January 6, 2021, I wrote a piece entitled “A New Serenity Prayer For When the Original Isn’t Enough.” In it, I shared these thoughts:
“Please grant me the serenity and the filters to prevent me from ‘reacting’ to posts justifying, excusing, or otherwise deflecting about the words and actions of the current occupant of the Oval Office.
Many a time, I have thought that I need to say something, and then ask myself if it is worth the aggravation of going head-to-head with someone who is not likely to change their mind. Instead, I do my best to go heart-to-heart and attempt to understand where they may be coming from. It doesn’t mean I accept their beliefs as my own. It means that if I lived their life and had their experience, I might feel the same way and say the same things.
There are certainly some that I respond to as best I can, in measured tones, asking them how they came to hold the beliefs and values they do. That feels better in my body. It can be exhausting to be in hypervigilance mode.”
Hypervigilance mode—that is how I describe my state of mind, body, and emotions close to two years later. Heightened senses, sleeplessness, nervous system activation, worry, anxiety and even a bit of depression come to call at all hours.
I am not prone to the last two, but know the signs when I see them. They are a clear indication that I need to push the reset button. My body gave me that message in the form of a respiratory infection that seems to show up when my defenses are down and I am running a quart or more low of energy and self-compassion. Coughing, wheezing, and congestion, as well as fatigue that had me huddled under blankets for a few days. I did my best to head it off at the pass with interventions, both medical and holistic. I took time off from work, took naps and binge watched re-runs of my recent favorite show, “This Is Us,” that had its finale in May.
Even though I am feeling so much better, if I hadn’t needed to watch my little ones, I would have gladly hunkered down under the covers for another day. The world is too much for me. I feel bombarded by the news, even though I seek it out. The polls go up and down in each race in every state in which an election is occurring. The Big Lie still informs many of the campaigns. Some candidates are completely unqualified and were only nominated by their party to be a warm body to fill a seat. I live in Pennsylvania, a pivotal state in which both a governor and senator are up for election. Josh Shapiro versus Doug Mastriano and John Fetterman versus Mehmet Oz—the differences could not be more stark.
Even though I am not voting in any other state, what happens there shapes the state of the Union. This election is also a referendum on the existence of democracy. How many of the Republican candidates up and down the ballot are election result deniers? How many of them have the cajones or brass ovaries to stand for the truth that the 2020 election was free, fair, and legitimate? Without that, the price of gasoline is irrelevant. Without that, every pro-social program that was created over the decades is at risk. The freedoms we have come to take for granted are at risk. If January 6th taught us anything, it was that when fired up with the fuel of fabrications, people with an agenda to pursue will take dramatic and dangerous measures to the point of violence and murder.
This is not hyperbole. This is a test of the emergency sanity system.
I voted in early October by bringing my ballot to the Board of Elections at my county courthouse. I felt that I had done more than my civic duty. It doesn’t seem grandiose to say that it felt like a sacred act and an agreement between myself and the God of my understanding. It felt like I was fulfilling my obligation to be a force for good in the world.
This morning, I needed even more than the Serenity Prayer. I had what I call a “God-versation” and insisted on knowing if the Divine wanted what was for the highest good, how could violence and hatred be part of it? How could God allow the horrible things that happen on the planet to occur? How could human rights be torn away? How could the planet be on the verge of decimation?
Still no answer, so I called my “older and wiser cousin” Jody for some guidance. We empathized and commiserated, we laughed and envisioned the world we wanted. She reminded me that we can only do our part and shine the light of love wherever possible. When I called, she was out and about doing deliveries for Meals on Wheels, clearly shining her light.
Somehow, the topic turned to our ancestors. Since she is my first cousin (her mother and my father were brother and sister), we share a grandmother and she had a grandmother on her father’s side of the family. Both had come here as immigrants during the pogrom. As a result, none of our immediate family was in the Holocaust. What courage and fortitude must it have taken for them to board a ship with their parents and travel across an ocean and start a new life in a land where they didn’t speak the language?
Both became U.S. citizens and raised families of their own in this country. Both would be angry and frightened about what we’re witnessing happen here now. They are part of the hardy and hearty people we became. I think about the ancestors from the Old Country when I feel sorry for myself in the midst of such plenty in my life now. I call on their strength and resilience to keep on keeping on.
I think about my revised version of the Serenity Prayer as I attempt to change what I cannot accept. Whatever the outcome of the election, that is my intention.