Updated: Mar 4, 2021
I met my husband, Ben, about 16 years ago when we worked as counselors at a rehabilitation center for teenagers, shortly after I graduated from college. It was beautifully set in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains- we called it The Village. We lived with these children (Ben with the boys on one side of The Village, and I with the girls on the other side) for 84 hours a week and had the other 84 hours off. We slept in peaceful log cabins that the kids who were patients years ago at the rehab center helped to build and had no electricity. We used an efficient, rustic pot-belly stove for heat in the winter, and we chopped a lot (a LOT) of wood all year long. I knew the instant that I saw Ben that he would be my love and companion for life. We were not at that special place in the foothills for very long- only about 9 or 10 months- before I informed Ben that I had been planning to move to Seattle that summer and that he was welcome to join me. He did, and off to Seattle we went, but that is a story for another time. Undoubtedly, I learned more during my short stint at that job than I have in any other job so far, and I dare say, from any other job that I will hold in my future.
We, the counselors and teenagers, said the Serenity Prayer together a lot. Sometimes 10 times a day. "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. Amen." Over and over and over again until it became second nature; that when up against a roadblock or challenge in the kids' day- big or small- we said it. And the serenity that it gave us all was truly miraculous. It put things into perspective. It made us take a step back and look at the situation through different lenses and decide how to proceed. Is this something that I can do anything about? If not, I have no choice but to let it go. Is this something that I can change? If yes, how do I best go about it? And God, please lend me the courage and strength to change- either myself or the situation, while helping me to know the difference. That last part is always the hardest. So, I was tickled and somewhat surprised yesterday when the Serenity Prayer escaped my lips while working with a favorite client, whose wife and step-daughter I also train, and whose family I truly feel as though I am a part of. My clients always become more to me: friends, parents, children, siblings. That's just how I work. I love my time with them, and I also, at times, want to strangle them. This guy in particular. We were discussing nutrition and what changes need to be made in order to meet the goals we have set. It started something like this: Me: "Ok, let's figure out where the challenge areas are and how we can begin to change them." Talk, talk, talk, debate, debate debate, barter, bicker, negotiate, question... And ended something like this: *Alan: "But my mouth has to have something in it that tastes good before I go to sleep." Me: BREATHE. DO NOT STRANGLE THIS SWEET MAN. And without even thinking, out flew the Serenity Prayer. Aloud, mind you. It was funny. Well, I thought it was funny, anyway. It did stop me from strangling Alan, and it made me quickly evaluate the situation, my control over it (or lack thereof), and how I want to steer my words and actions. Truth be told, Alan and his family are amazing clients and I see them in the gym almost daily. While Alan wanting something in his mouth that tastes good before he goes to sleep is probably something that I could change, given the comfort and happiness it provides him and how well he is doing with everything else I ask him to do, it is not worth the battle. That's where knowing the difference came into play, and I let it go. That little interaction with Alan really struck a chord with me and I've been thinking about it since it happened. This particular scene, my use of the Serenity Prayer, and what it represents for me was funny and somewhat inconsequential. But it made me realize that I need to be saying it more throughout my day. Sometimes 10 times a day. For little and big things. For the little things- to help me see that it is probably not worth the battle. And for the big things, it is absolutely essential. It keeps me in line with my values, my mission. It makes decisions easier. It points to what matters. And most importantly for me, it helps me to decipher the root of the problem: Is it me? Is it him/her/them? Is it no one's fault, it just IS? The big picture: Very little is in our control. We cannot control others. Period. At best, we can influence them, but even at that, one must tread lightly. We have some control over the situations in which we find ourselves, but not always. In my line of work, understanding that one element- that we can't control others- is what makes or breaks a good trainer. I like to think of it as a microcosm for my own life… When, despite my best parenting efforts, the child still misbehaves... Serenity prayer. When the hard work I put into a project isn't reciprocated or received as I had hoped it would be... Serenity prayer. When my words just aren't getting across... Serenity prayer. When push comes to shove... Serenity prayer. 100 times a day, if I need it. Because there are really only 2 choices. Change it. Or let it go. The clincher is knowing the difference. It's so easy, it's hard. Nearly 16 years ago, just barely out of kid-hood myself, I took that job at The Village because I thought it seemed sorta cool, and I liked being outside. Never would I have guessed that I would have come away with my soul mate, and my life's compass contained in one sentence: The Serenity Prayer. And mean wood chopping skills. Seriously, I can split some wood y'all. It's impressive.