July 3, 2009

It’s All Good / Patti Lamb

Modern-day parable prompts reminder of Serenity Prayer

Patti LambAfter a long and tiring day, a young woman phoned her wise elder sister to vent.

“As usual, I’m furious,” the younger sister complained. Seething, she explained that her husband continued his pattern of working late, and provided no help with the children. Her anger festered and resentment crept in.

“Each night, he gets home from work late and says he’s tired. He eats dinner, catches up on the news and ballgame scores, kisses the sleeping [and therefore seemingly angelic] kids, and goes to bed. He never helps with cooking, the kids or housework. Every night, he trudges in later, and my blood pressure rises proportionately with each minute past nine o’clock. Doesn’t he know that I get tired, too?”

“So then what happens?” the elder sister inquired.

“Well, by that point, I’m so frustrated that I either unleash on him or else I give him the silent treatment,” said the younger sister through clenched teeth.

The big sister asked her little sister if she knew the Serenity Prayer.

“ ‘Serenity’ is no longer in my vocabulary,” said the younger sister through pursed lips. “And yes, I know the prayer,” she snarled.

The elder sister replied, “I’m not sure I would want to come home to a fire-breathing dragon, either. Knowing that I’d be met with hostility would definitely not make me get home any earlier.”

A few seconds of silence followed on the line.

The elder sister then pointed out that her younger sister had known of the man’s intense work ethic and perfectionist tendencies long before the two were married. That was one of the qualities that originally attracted her to him. She questioned why there was any expectation of this behavior changing now, and commented that the man worked 13 hours a day and was not exactly lounging on a cruise ship.

“I see no utility in carrying resentment,” the wise older sister said, explaining that anger usually only affects the person toting it. “Besides, it’s entirely unattractive.”

The big sister continued, “By the way, what have you done lately to nurture your marriage? When was the last time you planned a date night? Is he the only one guilty of letting your relationship go on autopilot?”

Silence lingered on the line as the young woman realized that she had been limiting her priorities to the children, finances and housework. Her husband had sort of fallen off that list.

That night, the young woman said her own version of the Serenity Prayer:

“God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the one person that I can;
And wisdom to recognize that the ‘one
person’ is me.”

The woman stopped lurking at the door to yell at her husband upon his arrival. She began leaving affectionate Post-It notes on the steering wheel of his car. She called him at work to say hello, and to share the children’s anecdotes and daily antics. She baked her husband’s favorite dessert for no special occasion.

Suddenly, her husband started arriving home earlier, oftentimes by 6:30 in the evening. He began to suggest ideas for family vacations, and signed up to serve as a referee at his son’s weekend soccer games.

We are not powerless victims to whatever problems arise. On the contrary, the only real power lies within us: We get to choose our attitudes.

(Patti Lamb, a member of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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