Once upon a time, a long time ago, I interviewed an artist about her work and I was curious, so I asked her why she was always so happy. She answered, “I chose Heaven.”
Later, she explained, “When I was very young, I loved my husband and baby very much. It could have been a perfectly joyous time except my Dad was dying of bone cancer. His hospital was two hours away and I visited him nearly every day. It seemed to me that I was always in the wrong place. When I was home, I felt guilty and when I was in the hospital, I felt I was cheating my baby. I felt like I was always bouncing between Heaven and Hell.”
“So how did you solve it?” I asked.
She answered, “Someone taught me the Serenity Prayer. I understood there wasn’t much I could control. My baby was fine and my Dad was dying, no matter what I did. My only choice was my emotional response. I could choose misery or happiness. When I finally understood that – I chose Heaven.”
By the time she shared her wisdom with me, her dad was long gone, her baby was in college, and she was a well-known artist. She was also a vital, enthusiastic, successful and joyful person.
I asked her the personal question because I wanted what she had. I’d been sober two years but I was broke and, and in a miserable love affair. I’d heard the Serenity Prayer many, many times and, to be honest, I thought it was a cliché until I heard her story. Since then it has become my favorite tool for solving life’s puzzles.
With sobriety, I realized that life would never be perfect. There would always be things I liked and other things I didn’t. The Serenity Prayer helps me navigate difficult choices.
God granted me a great deal after I got sober. I gained new opportunities and wonderful tools to create a sane life. I learned to use the Serenity Prayer and I discovered that I had more choices than I’d believed.
I attracted and built a good writing career, a sensible financial situation, and many excellent friends. Eventually, I gained self-forgiveness and a wonderful relationship with my family.
However, there were things I desperately wanted and didn’t get. I bumped my heart against the true love dream for a long time. We eventually parted company because I couldn’t make him be what I wanted him to be. That wasn’t my only disappointment but it was a biggie.
It is tough to give up the dream even if the reality is only heartache. Like most people, I want what I want when I want it. 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.
I was seldom happy in those early days . Then I discovered Science of Mind and the teachings of Dr. Ernest Holmes, founder of Religious Science. When I combined 12 Step wisdom and the Science of Mind teaching, my life kept getting better. I kept getting happier. And happier.
At some point, I decided events didn’t matter as much as I’d thought, because I could always choose my emotional responses. Disappointment didn’t throw me. I stopped being a victim. I could choose to be happy – I could choose Heaven.
No one completely escapes disappointment. No matter how hard we work, or how effectively we visualize good news, sometimes things go in different directions. We don’t get to control everything but we do get to control our reactions.
We can choose to be happy. Life isn’t a tragedy unless we react as though things are tragic. Most people have events happen that are sad and it takes time to get over those rough spots however, the Serenity Prayer can help us heal more swiftly.
For example, losing a job is not good news but it is also not the end of the world. Some people curl up into a ball and refuse to recover from he blow. Others accept it happened and find the courage to move on quickly. They find another job or start their own business.
Very often, something that looks bad turns out to be the push we needed. A divorce leads to true love. An illness leads to better health habits.. A bankruptcy leads to a simpler lifestyle. What looks like loss turns out to be that Staircase to Heaven they sang about in old-fashioned musicals.
Of course, some things really are tragic and it may take time to find the serenity to accept what has happened. The death of a loved one is certainly sad especially when it is unexpected. However, most people survive grief and regain their happy lives.
People with serenity come to understand that death really is a part of life. They release grief as quickly as possible. It does no good to mourn for the rest of your life. It neither brings the loved one back nor helps the others you love if you mourn too deeply.
Accepting life as it comes and making choices about how to react as you go along is a good action plan for living. In 12 Step programs we are advised to live a day at a time and not dwell on the past. I’ve observed that attitude really does help people.
Much of it has to do with emotional maturity and choice. Some of us find the serenity, courage, and wisdom to live one day at a time when they are facing a life-threatening illness. Others are miserable when they break a fingernail.
I believe it is very helpful to remember that nothing is permanent, not even pain. That’s the good news. On the other hand, you will never be able to arrange everything exactly the way you want it and keep it there. How you choose to react is more important that the event itself.
If you don’t believe me, I invite you to try an experiment. Apply the Serenity Prayer to any perplexing or unhappy event in your life. Begin by asking yourself whether you need to find the serenity to accept it or the courage to change it. In other words, begin by seeking wisdom.
Next time something happens in your life that seems like a bad thing, ask yourself if there is anything you can do to make it better. If the answer is yes, be happy and do it. If the answer is no, choose to be happy anyway.
Many people find it surprising or unbelievable to hear that they can control their reactions to life’s events but it is true. It is also an important key to happiness. You can stop believing life makes you a victim and start believing you have the wisdom and power to be a player in the game of life.
Am I unhappy about anything today?
Is there anything I can do about it?
How do I choose to feel about my issue?
Easy crossword puzzles on the AARP website are not really very easy when I get stuck on a wrong-headed route. If I need a synonym for aged and I’m thinking elderly but the answer that fits is ripe they become Frustrating Crosswords.
I have spent many precious moments trying to fit a wrong word into a tight space. Last week, the clue was sort and my time was doubled because I couldn’t imagine anything but genre or type. Sort can also mean arrange.
My problem is chronic. The word was ruler, and I spent ten minutes searching for a four letter word that meant measuring tool all the while, forgetting about king.
I thought the answer to public should have been crowd and it turned out to be overt. I thought the answer to long should have been stretched and it turned out to be yearn. I think the answer to employ should have been hire and it turned out to be use.
Crosswords are just a game and I needn’t worry about my scores. I have an excellent vocabulary so I don’t worry about that either. However, my tendency to latch onto one idea and hold on so tight it hurts can be a private problem. How about you?
Opening up our minds to new ideas is a great skill. We can look at our earlier lives and see how important the ability to see more than one way really is. When I look backward, I see my youthful relationships could have been simpler if I’d seen love and sex as separate words. I see now that my life could have been richer if I’d known mathematics is fascinating fun.
New viewpoints are often invigorating and helpful. Learning new things keeps us young and healthy. I improved my health when I began to define food to include vegetables and fruits, not just meat and potatoes.
Steadfastness and perserverance are two great characteristics. On the other hand, being willing to explore new aspects of a situation and attach new meanings to words is very rewarding. Opening up to change is a great deal of what we learn in the spiritual classes at the Centers For Creative Living.
Hanging onto one viewpoint is just one more way to resist change. If it is an idea that impacts our decision making abilities, we need to learn to let go sooner. The ability to adapt to changing conditions is one important measure of intelligence.
Think about the ideas you have had to change in your lifetime in order to adapt to modern living. Perhaps there was a time when you thought boys were bad cooks or girls were bad mechanics. If you wanted a relationship that is based on equality, you will probably have modified those ideas by now.
One of these days, as a part of your spiritual practice, make a list of some of the ideas you have changed in your life. You will be pleasantly surprised at the progress you’ve made simply by changing your mind.
Here are a few of my changes:
1, I used to believe I was too dumb for math and now I believe I can balance my books.
2. I used to believe I needed nine hours of sleep every night and now I believe seven hours works just fine.
3. I used to believe comic movies are a waste of time and now I believe they make you healthier.
4. I used to believe TV was an idiot machine and now I believe it is an exciting medium.
5. I used to believe working with a team was difficult and now I believe it can be wonderful.
We all change ideas as we move through life and that is a good and not-so-good thing. The trick is to retain the ideas that are still valuable and discard the ones that no longer serve us. It is useful to take an inventory from time to time just to clean up some of what needs to be changed.
As we inventory our beliefs, we may find we are hanging onto ideas that need to change. For example, you might want to take a look at some of your ideas about work divisions between men and women. Who does the housework? Who mows the lawn? How’s that working? How would you like to see it change?
As you do this inventory, be on the lookout for prejudice. You may have picked up some very narrow beliefs as a child. You know the kinds of things I’m talking about. One ethnic group can’t drive well. Another ethnic group is lazy. One gender is untrustworthy. Another gender is money hungry.
If there are any of these old pre-judgments hanging around in your consciousness, this is a great time to change.
Learning to look at life through a wider viewpoint can make you a more successful, much happier, and more successful person. When you open your mind to different ways of looking at things, you also become more creative.
Much of what we teach in our Centers for Spiritual Living has to do with allowing new ideas and new opportunities to come into our lives. We have a simple statement that we say over and over, “Change your thinking and change your life.”
Our Sunday talks, books and classes help us create better and better lives. If you are interested in knowing more about how to widen your ability to see clearly, check out my book, Science of Mind Skills. It is available through this blog or in your church bookstore.
Do something to build a wider mindset today.
List at least five ideas you have changed recently.
List at least three ideas you are considering changing now.
How do you plan to open your mind set?