Friday, April 12, 2013

Serenity or Stress

I can remember it hanging on the wall of my Grandparent's house--a small piece of wall decor with the Serenity Prayer on it.

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. --Reinhold Niebuhr

That was the first place I encountered this ages-old piece of advice.  I probably read it a hundred times, and familiarity with this saying diluted its meaning for me over time.  This week, while reading "Stressed Less Living" by Tracie Miles, I ran across it again.  Literally.  I just ran right past it; read right through it; paid it no attention at all.  Wisely, Tracie had included a couple of other versions of this prayer, which she shared in the next couple of pages.  At the unfamiliar wording, my brain slowed down just enough to absorb an old truth that I needed to embrace. 

God grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change;
Courage to change the only person I can;
and Wisdom to know that person is me.  --Author Unknown

How many times, in this activity-stuffed, sensory overload world that I live in, do I blame my stress on my circumstances?  I feel the pressure building in my life; I feel the turmoil in my gut as each event goes by; I toss and turn in bed, ruminating over the day's events--and the "If" list begins to form.  I don't count sheep as I lie awake wishing for sleep.  I count the "ifs" in my life--IF:

I had more money 
I had more time
I hadn't said that at work
I hadn't agreed to participate in that project
That person hadn't spoken to me that way
I hadn't eaten that dessert
My commute wasn't so long
They had returned my telephone call
I hadn't spent two hours on Facebook
My boss understood how much pressure I am under
My family was easier to get along with
And, the list goes on and on. . . .I'm sure that almost everyone has a list like this! Some of my "ifs" involve choices I make, but so many involve things that others do; many times it is the things I believe others do to me that create the most stress.  In the self-centered part of my psyche, I may want to believe people actually do hurtful things intentionally, but I know the truth--they just didn't realize they were upsetting me or making the situation difficult.

But, the stress is real.  The pressure is always there.  The feeling like the world is about to spin out of control is overwhelming, at times.  And I lash out in frustration and pain and fear.  At whatever or whoever is closest at the time.

My mother-in-law uses a pressure cooker to prepare potatoes sometimes.  Maybe you've used one or perhaps you've never seen one.  It is a large pot with a lid that has a rubber gasket around the edges; you place the lid on the pot and lock it into place.  On the top is a tiny stem valve with a "rocker" that sits on top of it.  It doesn't take much liquid to prepare vegetables in a pressure cooker--the steam created does much of the work.  Not long after placing the pot on the heat source, the temperature rises to the point where the rocker begins to swing back and forth on the valve, releasing only enough pressure to keep things under control inside the pot.  As the heat rises, the rocker swings more and more violently on the valve--it is the only source of relief the pot has.  Once the cooking time has passed, the pot is removed from the stove, but you cannot open the lid immediately--if the pot were opened before cooling, the results would be painful.  The lid wouldn't smoothly release--with the slightest movement of the lid from the "locked" position, it would explode off of the pan, and quite probably injure the cook. Instead, you must place the pot in the sink and run cold water over the edge of it to cool it and lower the internal pressure.   It doesn't take long to cook potatoes in a pressure cooker, and if you remove the pot from the stove after the correct amount of time, you have unbelievably tender potatoes.  But, if you leave them under pressure for too long, they explode and scorch.

I wonder how much I am like that pressure cooker sometimes.  Each of the "ifs", the circumstances, in my life are like the another degree the temperature rises.  At first, the heat is low and the need for the release valve is slight.  If I keep the temperature on low, keep the release valve open, and remove the heat source when appropriate, the result is excellent.  Stress is used in a healthy way to transform my hard heart into a tender one, just like those potatoes.  But, if I let the temperature get too high, if I don't keep the release valve clear of debris, if I allow the pressure to build, I am no longer tender of heart--I am ruined.  And if someone in my life comes along, like an unsuspecting cook removing the lid of the pressure cooker too soon, they are injured by the explosion of my stress all over them.

And, more likely than not, it is the people I live with that get to experience this.  I let life goad me all day long, and then take it out on the first person who crosses me at home.  Maybe they are doing something irritating, maybe they are doing something I have asked them not to do so many times that I have lost track of the number, maybe they even said something unkind.  But, I'm pretty sure they don't deserve the injury that occurs when they lift the lid off of the pressure cooker that has been my day.

It's not what they do and changing them won't bring the serenity I so desperately need.  The only change I can effect is the one in me.  I need to read the owner's manual on my own pressure cooker life and let Divine intervention clear the release valve in my soul.  I need the courage to change the only person I can, and the wisdom to know that person is me. 


  1. Sandi, This is the first time I have read your blog, and it's like I'm reading my future self's wise words. I tend to let things bubble up and then boil over like it came out of nowhere ... sometimes Matt says I go 0 to 60 (that's an exaggeration haha). So I will be thinking about the potato pressure cooker (which I've never heard of) today and not blame other people or situations for my stress!! Thanks for such a great devotional this morning! You are a lovely writer.

    1. Thanks, Rosita! I appreciate the affirmation, as it is a bit hard to put oneself out there like this :)
      And, believe me, I understand how easy it is to absorb all the stress of everyone around you until you explode. I think knowing that others have had the same experience is helpful and reassuring.

  2. Sandi, I love your comparisons with the pressure cooker. I can remember my grandmother being burned one time with a canner, which has the same principle. Yes, the steam building up can be dangerous if not cooled properly. Yes, I've been guilty of the blame game and no it sure doesn't help. Thank you for a great blog!
    Barbara Prince, OBS Small Group Leader

  3. This is a very reflective post and I love the analogy with the pressure cooker. Your last paragraph is one that is so true in my life as well. Thanks for sharing this.
    Mary S