In her latest Share Your Stories post, Holly Elissa Bruno reflects on what it means to surrender to powerlessness. Join in the conversation with Holly Elissa as you think about the importance of overcoming guilt when life feels out of control, and embracing the feeling of powerlessness that results.
Powerlessness: Where’s the 2nd chance in that mess?
“The only devils in the world are those running in our own hearts. That is where the battle should be fought.”
2nd chances can show up in disguise, unannounced, and hard to take at first. I didn’t know when I listened years ago to this early childhood director from New Jersey that her words would change my life:
“Feeling guilty about what happened is easier than feeling powerless,” she told me. “It’s a lot easier to blame myself and beat myself up than it is to admit there was nothing I could have done to make things better. Look,” she continued, “having no control is too scary for most of us; it’s painful to stand by and witness suffering and not be able to do a thing to stop it.”
Her words darted straight into my heart.
When my son became addicted to nicotine, I couldn’t bear to see him shaking and agitated until he could light up his next cigarette. I winced internally when I watched him get his nicotine fix. My brain contorted with concern: What can I do to help him stop? How can I hold up the mirror so he can see he’s hurting himself?
As a mom, I felt guilty that I couldn’t help my son stay healthy. I couldn’t bear feeling powerless, unable to stop him from hurting himself.
And there it is: Guilt is easier to live with than powerlessness. Powerlessness means admitting I cannot change my son’s mind for him. God, grant me the serenity to accept that I can’t change anyone else, especially people I love. My son is an adult. Smoking is his choice.
Listen: Changing myself is hard enough. Trust me! I have more maturity gaps than a centipede has legs.
I’m an addict too, not to substances but to processes. Most of my life I have been a work addict. Working hard, working long hours, doing more than is required, aiming toward perfection; all of these seemed to help my career advance. So I kept doing them.
No one staged an intervention or recommended rehab for me. But I am an addict nonetheless. Work addiction is the one addiction that is not only accepted, it’s applauded.
Feeling guilty about overworking holds me back from getting free. The truth is I rediscover who I am when I admit I am powerless over my addiction. If I don’t admit my powerlessness, I can count on my addiction to creep on back in, waiting to “live rent-free in my head.”
Ever so painstakingly I am getting the message: Surrender the illusion of control.
“Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.”
Humor helps. I smile as I remember the Jesuit priest in Rome who, upon waking each day, greeted each of his addictions by name: “Good morning, lust. Good morning, envy. Good morning, greed.” The priest said his addictions were like old friends, always there waiting for him. They understood him so well. He was a savvy priest; by naming his addictions, he stood a better chance of keeping his distance from them. He chose not to be in denial.
Given the alternatives (denial, staying addicted, beating myself up) feeling powerless isn’t such a bad thing.
These days, when I can’t accomplish something or can’t stop something painful from happening, especially to a loved one, I have an option: surrender. Admit I am not in control. That admission doesn’t feel soft and fuzzy. It feels jagged and scratchy. But it’s also a blessing. Why?
Powerlessness leads to humility and humility leads me home:
- I love my son; but, I am powerless over his addiction to smoking. What can I do? I can love him and let my guilt go
- I love my work; but, I am powerless over how it can take over my life. What can I do? Admit I am powerless over my work addiction and take baby steps to take care of myself.
Baby steps help. Today, for example, I work out. Today I enjoy lunch and laughter with Wendy, my good friend of twenty-six years. Today I discover a new novelist to adore. I take time to let the sweet theme of Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” wash my spirit clean. I watch my Red Sox play the Toronto Blue Jays. So what if the Sox lose again? I’m powerless.
Today is starting to sound lovely.
Powerlessness over the things I can’t control? Do I hate that feeling? Often I do. But more often than hating the feeling, I accept it as the first step toward letting go.
“When I stand before thee at the day’s end, thou shalt see my scars and know that I had my wounds and also my healing.”
When we admit we are powerless, we give ourselves the second chances we all deserve to live a happy and freer life.
In the end, powerlessness offers a deeper kind of spiritual power: humility and dignity. Tomorrow I can say, “Good morning, humility. Good morning, dignity. Good morning, work addiction.” And yes, “Good morning, serenity”.
How about you:
- Are you trying to control something or someone over whom you have no power?
- What would it take for you to admit you are powerless?
- What supports do you need to have in place to help you take this first step?
- If you have been able to admit your powerlessness, how has taking that step changed your life?