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 Serenity Prayer
A woman told me recently, “If I could just get my husband to stop leaving the towels on the floor after he takes a shower … and if I could just get him to stop letting my three-year old leave his towels on the floor, I would feel like he was contributing more to keeping the house clean.”
“How long has your husband been doing this?” I asked. “Well, since we’ve been married,” she admitted. “That’s seven years.” “Hmm. And you’ve asked him to put his towels away?” I probed. “Every day!” she exclaimed. “He’ll do it for a couple of days and then it’s right back to the same problem. He’s a great husband in so many ways, but this issue with the towels drives me crazy. It would be so easy for him to just pick them up and put them in the laundry basket!” I could sense her frustration. “So you’ve tried to get him to change and he hasn’t. What’s the likelihood that he’s going to stop this annoying habit?” I asked. “He probably won’t” she said. I looked at her as she processed what she had said. “He’s probably not going to change and this is not life or death, so maybe I need to change how I look at it” she continued. “So basically, you have three choices…” I suggested:
1. Accept the towels on the floor as something you choose to live with.
2. Consider ‘putting away towels’ to just be one of your daily chores.
3. Be irritated everyday.
“Which one sounds best to you?” I asked.
It was in that moment that a light bulb came on for her. “Well, it would only take me a few seconds to just pick up the towels and put them in the laundry basket,” she said. “I’ll just do it. I don’t think it’s worth any more fussing and negative energy. I will just think of it as one of the things I do.” Our conversation was a simple illustration of how you can allow the things you cannot change to become a source of unnecessary frustration – sometimes for years. As you may have learned in your own life, you cannot change people. If you base your peace and level of happiness on the attitudes and actions of others, you will find yourself consistently disappointed. I am not suggesting that you stop speaking up for yourself and making reasonable requests of others. I am suggesting, however, that you don’t become so attached to your need for them to change that you stress yourself out unnecessarily.
This week, I challenge you to have the courage to accept the things (no matter how large or small) you cannot change and the courage to change what you can. Here’s how:
1. Accept the people in your life as they are.
As difficult as it may be at times, it is absolutely essential in a loving relationship to accept a person for who he or she is. Think back to a time when you did not feel accepted. How did it make you feel? Accepting a person for who they are does not mean condoning bad behavior. It means accepting what is and building from there rather than requiring a person to change in order for them to receive love, kindness or approval from you.
2. Ask yourself, “In what ways could I respond differently in relationships in which I wish the other person would change?”
Some people know how to push your buttons – and they’ll do it as often as they can in order to get the reaction they want from you. Others are not trying to push buttons, but inevitably do, as they do things that displease you. Change the dynamic of a situation by choosing a new response. In the case of the conversation I just outlined, the woman simply determined that something as simple as towels on the floor was not worth the frustration and negativity. So she let it go! “He’s probably not going to change. It’s just not important to him, so I guess I will have to be the one to change unless I want to keep feeling frustrated.” Choose your battles wisely. What do you need to let go of?
3. Are there boundaries I need to set in order to protect my own peace, joy and serenity?
It is sometimes necessary to set clear boundaries and protect them. For example, I don’t permit “drama” in my life. I do not allow people and situations that are negative, messy or lacking in integrity into my life. I just don’t have time for them. When I see such situations or people coming, I make it clear that certain conversations, situations and approaches are not acceptable to me and I won’t take part. What boundaries do you need to set to keep peace, joy and serenity in your life? What conversations do you need to have to make those boundaries clear to someone who has stepped across them?
4. Have I met the other persons’ request for change?
It can be easy to expect change in others without noticing that others would like to see a change in us as well. Be willing to take others’ requests for change seriously. Rather than being offended (1 Corinthians 13 tells us that love is not easily offended), be honest with yourself. Perhaps it is time to make a change. When you are willing to change for someone else, they will often let down their wall and meet your requests too. If you are the one who must take the first step, do it. Sometimes we must let go of the need to be right in order to embrace the opportunity for peace, joy and love.
My challenge to you this week:
Answer all of the questions in 1 – 4 above. Consider the choices you have in handling a situation that is currently frustrating you. Make a choice that will lead you to greater peace, joy and serenity in a relationship or situation in your life.
What lesson is God offering you through the frustration or discomfort you are experiencing in a particular area of your life right now?
Leave your comments below; I’d love to hear from you!