Monday, November 3, 2008
The leaves are falling and so are gas prices...
With the coming of autumn in my neck of the woods here in East Tennessee, one usually expects trees ablaze with stunning colors that are truly breathtaking. However, this year, it is not so much that way. We have had a very dry September and October, not to mention the summer months, which has really dampened the colors this year. This year they have seemed almost pasty and pastel as compared to the usual vibrant reds, golds and yellows we normally see. It just does not seem as much like fall or how it ought to. It all “feels” different... On the other hand, I was able to buy gas this morning for $2.35 a gallon! That made it feel a little better considering that just a month ago I remember very painfully putting $5 a gallon gas in my car. Then there are the other two main topics of that are looming... the financial market and the presidential race. Those two things not only feel different, but they are different. It is a blessing that I am not a political scientist or a finance guru or my stress level would be out the roof.
If you are like me, you might be spending a lot of time thinking about all these things here lately. The leaves changing, gas prices, the election and the stressed out financial markets... The thing is, with all four of those things, I have absolutely little to no control. For the election I can vote (and did). But with the other three, leaves, gas and the financial market, I can’t control that any more than a snail could build a house. It is kind of a helpless feeling. What I mean is that I would love to get one of those “Easy Buttons” and make the leaves the exact hue I think they should be, drop the price of gas at least $1 and have the candidate I support to win automatically. (He is of the blue variety just in case you want to know or have not guessed already.) The truth of the matter is that there is, in reality, very little I have direct control over past my own actions. What is a paradox though is that my career centers around helping people get control of their own lives. Which begs the question, what do we really have control over?
In my private practice as a Marriage and Family Therapist, people only come to see me because something in their life is out of control...or at least it feels that way to them. With people that come for marriage counseling, it might be a spouse that has been unfaithful. Or on the less serious side, it might be a young newly married couple trying to make sense of how to negotiate making new rules for their family. The problem being that they base their view of the relationship on the assumption that things should work like it did when they lived with their mom and dad or when they were single. Sometimes it is a person who is struggling with chronic depression and anxiety that just seems to be taking over their life. Or it might be a person who has experienced the trauma of abuse and is trying to make sense of it all. In a nutshell, most people that come for counseling and therapy are experiencing very common life problems. But what drives them to seek counseling is that the symptoms they are experiencing are unmanageable for whatever reason. In other words, with all the things they have tried so far to “fix” the problem , it is just not working. And for that reason, their life feels out of control and unmanageable.
My job as a therapist really boils down to helping people sort out what they have control of and what they don’t. Then helping them to come up with solutions to how to make changes in what they do have control of. Sounds simple doesn’t it! To use the well known cliché, “easier said than done”... Where it gets complicated is that people have this natural propensity to go after what they want, rather than what they need. To make things even worse, is that most of us really have a hard time distinguishing between want and need. And the more energy spent going after “wants” rather than “needs” just screws everything up. To give a very simple example: I “want” the leaves to be a perfect combination of colors and last for at least a couple of weeks. But I “need” to be satisfied with what God gives me in the way of fall foliage... I have no control over what I want, the leaves being “perfect” colors. But I do have control over how I appreciate what I am given... less than colorful leaves. You know, the whole glass half full vs. half empty thing. I have a choice of being upset that the over-all colors this year are so less than brilliant. Or, I can take delight in the fact that one tree in my front yard that has been absolutely stunning this year.
There are so many things in life that I have little or no control over. Tomorrow is election day and by this time on Wednesday we will know for sure, who our next president will be. I exercised what I little control I have in the outcome of the election by voting early. (I think that my “blue” candidate will win this year). I hope that the campaign promises made will make a difference and end some of the angst people are generally feeling about the economy and the state of the world in general. My hunch is though; there will be more things to come up in the future that will cause more anxiety about life; like the leaves not changing the way I want them to, gas prices going back up or a volatile financial market. In other words, change is inevitable. Most of the changes that occur, I do not have control over. But one thing for sure I do control is my attitude and the way I view the changes. I can choose to go through life kicking and screaming or I can choose to sit back and just enjoy the ride... I think I will just enjoy what God hands me and take delight in that...