Learning to Love the Givens in Life
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!
What beautiful reflection Sr. Melannie!
I struggle with the given of an aging body that often has pulled muscles and joints. Last night, I took a restorative yoga class and my aching body felt relaxed. This morning I feel blessed that I can move more easily.
Dear Sr. Melannie,
Oh, that prayer, most powerful and beautiful to me! Countless times it has been the balm of calm in my chaos. Saying those words, allowing them to seep into my heart and mind has pulled me back from the edge and down from the ledges of utter insanity. Trying to control the givens, thinking I am God and in charge, refusing to live on life’s terms has brought me to my knees so many times, thank God. I love today’s reflection and will hang out with the thoughts as I continue on this day.
Elizabeth, our oldest child (44) has Down’s Syndrome. Beth has lived in our home continuously from birth. This “given” has been a pure blessing in our lives. Has it been difficult at times? Most certainly. But God’s grace, and the sweetness of Beth’s love for humanity, rise above all difficulties. Thank you, Sister, for this excellent reflection.
What a beautiful example of “embracing a given” in your life. Thank you, Ed, for sharing it! Melannie
I have always loved the serenity prayer and have repeated it so many times . I enjoyed hearing it put to music, thank you.
I gave a framed copy of the Serenity Prayer to one of my sons when he spent 6 weeks in the stress center for depression at age 13. He will soon be 42, and to this day that frame sits in his room. I can only imagine the impact it must have made on him as a troubled young man.
Good Morning Sister Melannie,
Another needed reminder for our daily lives.
What a beautiful version of the “Serenity Prayer.” I plan to listen to it again, and it will be the soundtrack to the rest of my day. Thank you!
Dear Sr. Melanie,
Beautiful reflection today. Love that prayer. Thanks for the inspiration you give us.
I read and re-read the prayer… I have a grown grandson who lives with me that is troubled… I call him my ‘entitlement child’ because he feels everything should be handed to him and becomes disruptive when it doesn’t happen… my daughter died three years ago and I made a promise to take care of him… Please keep me and him in your prayers!
Dear Patti, My readers and I will keep you and your grandson in prayer… Sr. Melannie
Good Morning, Sr. Mellanie and Friends.
I enjoyed the story of Adam and Eve. How refreshing!
And yes the burden of so many choices. Part of the “dictatorship of relativism”, perhaps?
And such a wonderful rendition of the Serenity Prayer, a daily favorite of mine.
Thank you, Sr. Mellanie.
PS: Roe v. Wade was decided on January 22, 1973.
Thank you for your response, Fr. Mike. And the clarification for the date. I must have taken that course in 1972–so I changed the year in the text above. Gratefully, Melannie
Hi Melannie , I too, loved the Adam and Eve poem. Your words brought new meaning to the givens in my life ….so many I have just taken for granted. Thanks for always “hitting” me at the right time.
I never heard this rendition of the Serenity Prayer…beautiful.
Prayers for you and Patti..what a beautiful and courageous gesture.
Love and blessings, Josita
Thanks, Sister Melanie. The serenity prayer has always been a favorite but love hearing it sung. Have a great week!
Good to have you back!
The challenge of living and working with 50+ fellow priests, deacons, religious and lay ministers over fifty years of ministry, few of whom were chosen, turned out to be a great blessing. To accomplish God’s work, I needed everyone of them, although I may not have understood that at the time.
Wonderful reflection. Learning to love the givens. Thank you so much.