Embracing Powerlessness, prt. 3

I said in my last post that in this one I would explore our true power. If you are just coming to my blog and have not read the two earlier posts in this series, please check them out before you read this one, because I am convinced that you will never understand your true power until you have come to grips with, and understood, the extent to which you are powerless. You will never embrace your true power until you know what it is — and what it isn’t.

Your true power lies in the only place — and I repeat, the ONLY place — that you have true control, true say, true influence: your own actions and attitudes. Yes, I have truly written two posts and part of a third one in order to give you the cliche, “You can only change yourself.” This cliche can never sound like anything but a cliche until you grasp how deeply, frighteningly true it is. But when you do the work of confronting your powerlessness, this is all you are left with, and it comes as a relief. “At least there’s something I can change!”

The good news is, this is what matters most. Imagine how your life would feel if you were unable to feel angry or anxious.Imagine if no matter who offended you, what upset you, or how messed over you got at work, at home, at school, or on the highway, you just carried inside of you a deep sense of peace and rest. Sometimes people would insult you with things that were true about you. Most of the time they would be things that were false. But either way, it didn’t matter. You would be okay with yourself, with others, and with the world.

This is potentially the sea-change that can happen when you embrace your powerlessness. When you realize that all you can change is yourself, you then begin to see that this is no small thing. It is, in fact, everything. Several years ago I was sharing with my counselor something someone had said that had made me angry. I said, “I know this can’t be all me. This person MUST be at least 50% responsible.” He replied, “Well, you’d better hope that you’re 100% responsible, because if you were, then you can solve 100% of the problem, without the other person getting on board even the slightest bit.”

When I take responsibility for myself, I can change my entire world. I can let go of things that used to make me angry. I can shake off fear and worry. I can say goodbye to obsessing over my weight, my baldness, my productivity, my health. I can decide to be at peace with everyone and everything. I can choose happiness over despair, even when the world around me is in bad shape. I can decide that instead of “waiting on the world to change,” I’m going to change my world — today. Right now. As long as my peace, my happiness, my self-worth, my sense of security and stability, depend on my wife, my kids, my church, my friends, my boss, my paycheck, my government (especially who is president), I will constantly find myself out of sorts about one thing or another. There’s just too much wrong in the world. I can’t fix it or change it all, and even if I could, then surely someone else would have figured out how to change it too, and would change it all around again so things would never stay the way I would want them.

That is why changing yourself is both the greatest gift and the greatest responsibility you could ever be given. When you accept this gift, you realize something horrifying. No more blaming. Your life is what you make it. That doesn’t mean you can simply wish your life into existence, but it does mean that no one else is to blame for your actions and attitudes. You alone are responsible for your fear, your guilt, your regret, your anger, your frustration, your difficulty loving others, your irritability, your lack of meaningful friendships, and your difficulty in accepting change. This doesn’t mean these things are always easy to deal with, but unless you accept complete responsibility for all of these things in your own life, and do something about them, then the horrible truth is that you are part of the problem. Unless you take full responsibility for your own life, reactions, emotions, responses, and perspectives, you are just one more broken person sitting around waiting for all the other broken people to fix themselves so that the world suits you perfectly. You know that’s never gonna happen, and you know that’s why there is so much conflict in the world today. The simple fact is that to continue to expect others to change to suit you (husbands, wives, parents, children, governments, friends, etc.) is actually kind of nuts.

Every day that you continue to live as if someone else is responsible for your problems, your life, your anger, your irritability, your unhappiness, is a day that you 1) cheat yourself of the peace that comes with letting go of what you cannot change and embracing self-change; 2) continue to perpetuate everything that is wrong with the world to begin with. Give the world and your circumstances responsibility for your well-being and happiness and you will lose every time. But accept responsibility — completely — and you can find the peace you’ve always wanted.

For more on these ideas, see my Be the Change series.