Key 5: Do all things without grumbling or complaining.
When I read the Apostle Paul’s admonition, memories of my great-aunt flash before me. She was the original grumbler and complainer, choosing to remain a spinster rather than marry a man who wore the uniform of a New Orleans streetcar conductor.
On every trip back to New Orleans during my childhood, we made an obligatory visit. I have three distinct memories: She always complained that we didn’t visit often enough, she described in great detail her gastro problems, and I always held my breath when she kissed me because her halitosis was so bad.
Lovely, wasn’t she? If any of my first cousins are reading this, they recognize the relative I describe. While she was almost a caricature of the embittered, sour old lady, haven’t we all known people like that? We want to avoid them whenever possible.
As a new widow, I struggled to find serenity and wisdom. I lay awake nights weighing my options and possibilities. Meek acceptance of circumstances was not my nature. I found it easy to ruminate about a past I could not change and to worry about a future I could not know. I could not always let go immediately; but to a great degree, I could keep my mind from getting stuck on thoughts that made me sad and anxious. While I could not change my circumstances, I could change my reaction to them.
Seeking peace, I continually prayed the Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
To achieve serenity, I had to accept and acknowledge my limitations and embrace my new role. I did not like my new status—widow—neither the circumstances that made me a widow nor the images the word conjured up. I did not like the fine print in Lev’s will and trust or the impact those terms had on my life. I did not like what felt like an invasion of my privacy, that all these people had to know all my financial affairs.This person with whom I had shared my feelings openly for forty-six years was gone, and I had no one to take his place. To whom else could I complain at the end of a bad day, fret about the children and grandchildren, worry about finances…or dream about the future?
For the longest time, I tried to deceive everyone, including myself. I wore a mask of strength and stoic acceptance, not admitting my pain and loneliness to anyone. But in times of stress and pressure, my buried feelings bubbled to the surface and spilled out in harmful ways. I grumbled. I complained. I overreacted and spoke harsh, angry words. I certainly was not blameless in the tension that mounted in the months after Lev’s death. Eventually, I made it over, under, and around the boulders that blocked my way as I climbed up the unfamiliar mountain of settling Lev’s estate, learning his business and assuming this new role of widow.
I reached the top of the mountain when I could remember the early months of widowhood without reliving them, when I could abandon my false pride and admit my pain and my fears. I reached the top when I quit trying to escape the reality of my aloneness and welcomed solitude, where I could spend time in reflection. In finally allowing myself to admit and then process my grief, I sorted out what I could change and what I could not. With new wisdom, I achieved a degree of serenity and peace. Those halting steps up the mountain added up. With help from friends and advisors, coupled with grace and patience from my family, I moved from anger, fear, and anxiety to acceptance and serenity.
Note: I wrote this before the terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday, November 13. After debating whether to delete this in respect for the truly serious situation in France, I decided that Paris is a stark reminder of how very trivial most of our complaints, grumblings and disputes are. As soon as we quit focusing on ourselves and look around, we realize how fortunate we are. The message to quit grumbling carries more weight today than it did yesterday.
Photo by Andrew Phillips for StockSnap.io.