I’m getting ready for bed when the text comes in. There’s something wrong with Dad. Immediately my throat constricts and my chest tightens. Denial washes over me in massive waves, threatening my ability to think clearly. This is my only parent, my safe person. I count on him being around forever.
The next hour passes in a blur, as I hand the reigns over to my husband. All I know is that I need to get to his house – now. My mind reels and my body shakes. I won’t let myself imagine another scenario, so I keep my expectations on replay – he will be fine, he’ll laugh at our anxiety, everything will be back to normal soon.
Reality crushes those hopes when the call comes an hour later. He is gone. Surely, there is some mistake. It’s a joke. They got the wrong house. Something. Anything.
I’m vaguely aware of how empty the freeway is as my husband merges our car onto it, how fast we must be speeding. I hear a sound, a guttural cry that scares me, but it takes several moments to realize it’s coming from my own mouth. I won’t accept it.
He’s been divorced for over a decade and I’m the oldest of only two daughters, so responsibility falls hard in the coming days. Funeral arrangements. His home. Searching paperwork. A lawyer. His dogs. An auction company.
Still, I fight against reality with everything I have. I refuse to accept defeat, to wave my white flag, to surrender to this hand. I don’t trust God and I certainly don’t want to know His will. As far as I am concerned, this is overwhelming, unfair, and not at all what I needed. I know better. God is wrong.
In the church, we’re encouraged to avoid memorized prayers, as we rely on the principles of personal revelation and a personal, dynamic relationship with our Heavenly Father. We find the act of repetition to be impersonal, formulaic, and all too reminiscent of the periods of apostasy, despite the fact that we do find formal prayers repeated in each sacred covenant we make. Still, rightfully so, we don’t utter someone else’s words as penance, we send our own heartfelt pleas for forgiveness upward. We don’t repeat someone else’s prayers of gratitude, we express the thoughts dearest to us.
And yet, I find something beautifully comforting in meditating upon the words others have plead, knowing the path has been paved before me, knowing I’m not alone when the deepest, darkest, loneliest parts of my heart are insisting that I am. I find solace in the simplicity and purity of the serenity prayer in particular, a hope that I otherwise do not feel in times of distress, angst, annoyance, or desperation.
God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference
Living one day at a time
Enjoying one moment at a time
Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is
Not as I would have it
Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him forever in the next
Thy will, not mine, be done
Reminders of my powerlessness and inability to control life and other’s choices surround me daily:
When I rush out the door to find a flat tire on a day I should have been early.
When the gym childcare is closed unexpectedly on a day I should have had time to myself.
When traffic is backed up and I’m forced to wait in a never-ending line for what should have been a quick errand.
When my daughter breaks a plate that she shouldn’t have moved in the first place.
When we’re waiting to know if my husband is getting the promotion that he should be offered.
When my daughter wakes up at the crack of dawn on a day I should be able to sleep in.
When I see advertising that shouldn’t exist.
When a death occurs that shouldn’t have happened so soon.
When addiction plagues relationships that should deserve more.
When mental health overwhelms those who shouldn’t be plagued with such trials.
When financial hardship hits families who should be blessed temporally.
I take a deep breath and repeat to myself the words of this precious prayer, remembering all those before me who have spoken these same words. I remember that there is much I can’t change, but much I can. I open myself to partake of the blessing of discernment that is offered directly because of the covenants I have made. I feel the gentle reminder to be mindful, choosing presence today instead of succumbing to the temptation to live in the past or future, in my fears, resentments, or even hopes. I am drawn to the stories of men and women who truly experienced opposition in all things, and I remember that I am in good company.
I am humbled by my Savior’s Atoning sacrifice, seeing more clearly the depths of His love for all of His children. I consciously choose to develop my faith in Him by exercising trust in His plan on His timetable, in spite of the terror I feel at relinquishing my control. I practice acceptance by acknowledging that while this life is a time for joy, it is also for growth and testing; the fullness of my joy will only be recognized in the eternities as I am welcomed home to my Heavenly Parents in the third estate. I breathe in the reality that endurance, preferably patient and hopeful endurance, is the key.
I give to Him the only gift I can truly offer that He doesn’t already possess – my will. With that prayer, my heart softens and I accept the gift of peace in the midst of minor annoyances, catastrophic traumas, and everything in between. I lay down my weapons of rebellion, I wave my white flag, I say, I don’t want to fight you, I surrender to your command, your grace, your love. I let the sorrow of disappointment and pain wash over me and I grasp hold of His Atonement in a way that allows my refining each and every day.
When my father passed, I refused to accept His gift, I refused to surrender. I found sorrow, anger, resentment, pain, and so much unmanageability, but I did not find peace. Today, I know I do not have to succumb to such captivity. I can choose the serenity available to each of us that transcends mortal understanding. I can use His Atonement.