People often come to me with what I call an “overwhelming problem load.” Problems have stacked on top of problems, until the stack seems ready to topple over and bury them.
Part of my job is to sit with them in their suffering. Not many people do this very well. Empathy begins the process of helping. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
But part of my job is also to help problem-loaded people transition from what’s called an external locus of control to an internal locus of control. An external locus focuses on all the people, circumstances, and conditions over which we have no control. This includes, by the way, our own past choices. By focusing on these things, we raise our frustration level.
Switching to an internal locus of control means saying, “What are my options now?” It means focusing on things over which I do have control, the choices I do have.
Edith Eva Eger lived through the Holocaust. She watched her parents carted off to the gas chambers. A German guard broke her back. She survived a mid-winter death march in a starving condition. She remembers starving, lying in the grass, trying to decide which blade of grass to eat, rejoicing that she still had a choice. In spite of all our circumstances, we still have a choice.
One thing we can always do, regardless of circumstances, is call upon God. Start the process of regaining your internal locus of control by “going vertical,” crying out to Him.
Imagine yourself sitting in a room with your problems. They’re hideous, gnarly-looking things, and they crowd around you, squeezing and even smothering you until you feel like you might pass out. Suddenly a door opens up in the roof, letting in a stream of light, and a ladder falls down to you. God calls to you, telling you to climb out, and you spend some time with Him as He helps you identify several of the problems you can change. You make a plan with Him to make those changes, climb back into the room, and begin.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.
“As for me, I will call upon God, and the Lord shall save me. Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, and He shall hear my voice. He has redeemed my soul in peace from the battle that was against me, for there were many against me.” Psalm 55:16-18