Poet Jean Murray Walker has written a poem entitled “Adam’s Choice.” In it, she imagines Adam seeing Eve for the first time. He is thrilled at the sight of her. But after a while, he begins to get annoyed with her. For example, he doesn’t like the name she gave the yak. And she “sings off-key.” But the deeper reason for his discontent is this: “He never chose her.”
Then one day there is a terrible rain storm. It is Eve’s first storm, I surmise, and she is terrified. In the slanting rain and beneath the bending trees, she runs toward Adam. Here’s how the poem ends:
“…and he takes her into his arms
and begins the long journey toward
learning to love what he’s been given.”
We live in an age and culture that almost deifies choice. Every time I shop for shampoo or toothpaste, I am overwhelmed by all the choices I have. Years ago Alvin Toffler, in his book Future Shock, coined the term “overchoice” to describe this phenomenon. Is the shampoo or toothpaste I finally select better because I had so many choices—and because I freely chose one? Or did the “overchoice” waste valuable time and energy?
The role of choice plays a role in more serious issues than selecting a toothpaste. In 1972 I took a communications law class at Indiana University. This was before Roe vs. Wade legalized abortion. My professor said something like this, “If advocates for abortion can connect having an abortion with freedom of choice, abortion will most likely be legalized.” He was prophetic. How many other laws have been tied to freedom of choice— using marijuana, not wearing helmets on motorcycles, owning assault rifles?
If we think we get to choose everything in life, we are living an illusion. The truth is, much of life is given, not chosen. We didn’t choose our parents, for example. Nor did we choose the time and place of our birth. Our childhood was largely a given. So too was our genetic makeup and our siblings.
Even when we think we’re choosing something—a wife or husband, our children, a vocation in life, a certain religious congregation—we soon realize even these choices are filled with givens. After a while, our spouse begins to get on our nerves, our children don’t live up to our expectations, our religious congregation has some members with glaring shortcomings. (Some even sing off-key!)
The bottom line is this: How do we respond to the givens in our life? Do we spend our days lamenting them? Do we play the If-Only-Game? If only I had had better parents, if only I were taller (or shorter), if only I were born into a wealthier family, if only I had had better teachers, If only…if only…if only. Or do we, like Adam in the poem, learn to love what we have been given?
I am not saying, of course, that we accept or embrace all the givens in life. Where would we be today if everyone had accepted slavery as a given? Or child labor, or racism, or discrimination against women? No, there are some “givens” we must work to change. That’s why we need prayerful discernment to sort out the givens in life.
One of my favorite prayers is the so-called “Serenity Prayer” attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr. It’s often used by Alcoholics Anonymous.
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. Amen.
What givens in your life do you struggle to accept the most?
Are there any givens you have embraced that have become blessings for you?
PS: Thank you for your prayers for the women’s retreat in Birmingham. And thank you to the wonderful women I was privileged to meet there!
The song today is the Serenity Prayer set to music. I like the simplicity and vitality of this version…
I welcome your responses to this reflection!