There was a period in my life where I spent most of my time doing one of two things: I was either worrying to extremes, or praying about what I was worrying about. My prayers were desperate. I often prayed, “Please let him come home safely.” Sometimes I prayed for something to change. At other times, I would make bargains. I would plea for resolution, and make promises in exchange.
My prayers all had one thing in common: I would pray with a specific outcome in mind.
“Please make him stop drinking.”
“Please help him to find a job.”
“Please don’t let us get pulled over.”
“Please don’t let him find the car keys.”
And, all of my prayers were directed at changing the trajectory of what was going on with the person I loved.
I would pray, and hope, and wish. If there was a Higher Power, I wanted whoever or whatever that was to wave a magic wand and make all of this difficulty go away.
It hadn’t occurred to me that there was another way to pray.
In Al-Anon, Step 11 is “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.” Prior to becoming a family member in recovery, I had not considered that prayer could be about myself, and what I could do. It never occurred to me that what I really might need was some strength to carry out my guidance.
Things started to shift when I started praying for God’s will and power. The first thing I felt led to do was to spend time with the Serenity Prayer.
“God, grant me the serenity…” meant serenity would come from a moment of grace. And, it meant that it was better for me to wait for some serenity – to be out of my emotional reaction – before proceeding forward with anything else.
“…to accept the things I cannot change…” meant that my prayers directing God to change someone else were futile. I couldn’t change others, which was evidenced by the fact that I hadn’t been able to even with all of my attempts! Acceptance of this fact was imperative, as it’s difficult to move ahead without embracing the truth of the situation for what it is.
“…the courage to change the things I can…” meant the power mentioned in Step 11 was necessary. I needed strength. I needed bravery. I needed gumption. I also needed to not let my fears stand in the way of acting out on the guidance of my Higher Power’s will when I knew what that was.
“…and the wisdom to know the difference.” Such an important part of the process, this reminds me that my inner truth has always been there, but has often been clouded by other obstacles. It also allows for space to determine if the guidance I think I’m getting is actually my Higher Power’s, or mine. (I can typically tell if it’s mine by the sense of anxiety and limited timeframe that comes along with it.)
Starting to focus on the Serenity Prayer and God’s will and power, turned my prayer process from an external practice, to internal. I was no longer praying for the change of outer circumstances. My prayers became centered on an alignment with my Higher Power, and strength to take actions that felt scary to me because they were unfamiliar. In fact, some of the scariest guidance I ever followed was to not take any action at all, when every ounce of my being wanted to revert back to my old habitual behavior of do something!
As my prayers for guidance for myself changed, I also saw how my prayers for others changed. I was not the expert of what someone else needed. In fact, I sometimes didn’t know what my own needs were. My prayers for others shifted to, “I know that You are with them.” Sometimes I need the reminder that each of the people I love, have their own relationship with a Higher Power, too. Sometimes this reminder is what I need in order to let go of them, and the situations they are experiencing, more easily.
Recovery has lead me to a prayer life that’s more personal. When I connect with my Higher Power about what I need to do, I often feel a nudge, or get an answer. I feel connected, cared for, and held. I also no longer feel helpless, and my experience has shown me I’ll know what I need to know when I need to know it. I will be lead.
This personal form of prayer has also allowed me to get out of the way, and to trust my Higher Power and the Higher Power of those I love. When I remember God is holding them, too, I no longer have the urge to do something. In that space an opportunity is created for someone else to have their own personal experience, which has nothing to do with me.
By Sherry Gaugler-Stewart is a blogger and professional working at The Retreat in Wayzata.