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Relax " you don’t have that much control in the world

A few years ago I was visiting with someone who’s particularly gifted at listening. We were having one of those let’s-solve-all-the-problems-of-the-world conversations, and he was leaning forward hard, taking in my words with obvious deliberation. I was in mid-rant, feeling good about my diatribe over a host of things, when he put his hands together in the universal gesture for “time-out.”

He said, “You’ve got two kinds of concerns in your life right now ” stuff you can do something about, and stuff you can’t do anything about.

“You can change your job situation, you can change that broken relationship you mentioned, and you can change cars. But you can’t change the weather, and you can’t change politics, and you sure can’t change people ” yet you talk about these things as though you’ve got the only good answers to some very sophisticated problems.”



He then encouraged me to sort out my sea of troubles by going home and drawing a big vertical line down the middle of a sheet of paper. Over the left-hand column, I was to write the words “Stuff I Can Change,” while on the right side of the page I was to write, “Stuff I Can’t Change.” Then, of course, I was to populate the list.

You can see where this is headed.



Later that day, I went home and followed his advice to the letter. You know what?

Turns out he was right. So right. His suggestion was so simple and effective that once I’d tried it I felt instantly better; the load had been considerably lightened.

And if you yourself are in that ranting place right now, I submit that this little exercise could save you a lot of time and trouble ” or at least an excess of stomach acid.

Go ahead, get a pen. I’ll wait …

All set? Great. While you were gone I worked up my own list, too. Let’s compare notes.

The first thing I notice in looking at my list is that the articulation of “Stuff I Can’t Change” is longer by miles than the stuff I can change. There’s just way more of it, and plenty besides that I could have thrown in but didn’t. That second column is chockablock with easily twice as many bullet points as the first column.

Next, I notice that “Stuff I Can Change” is pretty much localized to me, or in some cases, my family and me. How much and whether I exercise, for example, has to do with the question of the stewardship of my time and gifts ” not the time and gifts of someone who lives halfway around the world, but moi. This puts the onus where it belongs.

(I once heard a minister say that when he was young he wanted to change the world; then, when he became middle-aged, he just wanted to change those around him. Now, he said, he was old, and he hoped by God’s grace simply to change himself.)

Finally, my list of “Stuff I Can’t Change” is humbling because of how silly it is in scope. Now that those items are staring back at me, I can see how truly impossible it would be for one person to really do anything about them. It would take blue-ribbon panels years of thought and action to address some of my complaints; otherwise, we might already have solutions for them.

I mean, honestly ” I have “postmodernism” and “the past” on my list! Of course I can’t change them. So why would I spend time worrying about them?

So there you have it ” a surefire way to cut your concerns by at least 50 percent. Make it a habit to think in these terms, and things will remain in their proper perspective.

Not that we shouldn’t seek to change the things that would seem to be beyond us, or be so much bigger than we are ” just that if we attend to what’s nearest first, we’ll find happiness and productivity where we never saw it before

In the Gospel According to Matthew, Jesus asks those around him whether they think they can add anything to their lives through their extravagant anxiety. The question, of course, is rhetorical. Yet he goes straight to the heart of things, telling them, “Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

And that, I suppose, is enough for today.

The Rev. Torey Lightcap is priest-in-charge of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Glenwood Springs (www.saint-barnabas.info). Torey and his wife have two children and live in New Castle.


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