Updated: Jul 3, 2019
One of my daughters has a cleaning issue. In that she doesn't if she can possibly help it. She is a bit of a pack rat, and I find fun collections of things on her bookshelves, like seashells, socks, pine cones, and candy wrappers. An open Pixie Stick mixed in with the Legos was a highlight of one of my forages into her stuff. On this and many other occasions I have looked at her shelves and asked, "What the heck happened in here?"
As all modern mamas would, I took to the Internet to find a solution to her room's constant chaos, and there found a 30-day guide to room makeover for children who struggle with ADHD or are resistant to learning executive skills. It worked. Sort of. But a year later there is only really one suggestion we've kept: that the trash can needs to be out in the open so my daughter remembers to put the trash inside it. Previously, it was behind the door.
Often -- and always on "cleaning days" -- the trash can is in the center of the room. And so the question of "Where does this broken piece of Styrofoam and this empty tape dispenser go?" is easily answered by her preteen brain.
I thought of this the last time I was sitting in my 12-step support group for women who are recovering from codependency. (For a list of codependent characteristics, check out www.coda.org.) Each meeting the leader reads the same script, and it begins this way:
"Please join me in praying the serenity prayer, which is in the center of the room."
And there, on the floor, in the center of the room, next to a battered box of tissues, it lies.
And we read it all together:
"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."
And then we take turns sharing our experience, strength and hope (this is also a line from our script), as well as our garbage.
Today I'm reflecting on how that prayer in the center of the room is the same as the trash can in the center of my daughter's. We who have been resistant to learning about good boundaries and self-care, managing others' problems and neglecting our own -- we toss our words out onto the waiting receptacle of that prayer. It is where we throw down our sorrows and concerns, the crumpled up stories of our daily lives that we haven't yet made sense of. And its the right place.
When I pray that prayer to God, He takes the things I can't change off my to-do list and puts it on His. The ones I can change kind of bounce back to me, and He gives me the power to make the changes.
I'm striving to have that prayer in the center of my life. Because truly, the wisdom to know the difference between what is my problem to solve and what is not would truly bring me serenity more than any other prayer. In the book of James it says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind." A wind-tossed wave was more what I felt like before I entered Christian recovery over three years ago; and it was the opposite of serenity. In recovery I dealt with my doubt in community, as I saw God answer our pleas for wisdom over and over again with a generous, "Yes."
At the end of the meeting, our script says this:
"Please join me in the Lord's prayer, which is in the center of the room." You might know it, the prayer of thanksgiving and petition that Jesus taught. "Our Father...Your will be done...Give us this day...forgive our sins...as we forgive others...deliver us from evil."
And if you will forgive what might sound like an irreverent metaphor, this prayer too needs to be in the center of my life, so I remember to hand my garbage to God. If I don't pray both these prayers regularly, the candy wrappers and shredded papers of my pain, mistakes and sins would just get shoved into the shelves of my soul, cluttering things up until people take a look at me and say, "What the heck happened in here?"
If you've got a little bit of garbage cluttering up your Christmas -- and who hasn't -- may I invite you to pull one or both of those prayers to the center of your room? God, a generous giver if ever there was one, has some presents for you: serenity, courage, wisdom and good will; daily bread and deliverance. Toss your crumpled stories in the can, friends, especially the ones you can't make sense of, and see what happens.