Fight Reality or Go with the Flow

An Assembling God’s Puzzle video

By Fr. Garry Richmeier, C.PP.S.

Sometimes we find ourselves in a spot where things are pretty much the way we want them – our work day goes well, the new recipe we try turns out very tasty, or a friend drops by unexpectedly. But if we are honest, we can always think of ways we’d like things to be better, even when everything is going well.

Reality does not hand us a perfect place to be, although we would like that. And when we find ourselves in a spot where numbers of things are not going the way we’d like, we can find ourselves fighting reality.

Fighting reality is a very stressful, anxiety-ridden, and often depressing activity. It begins with an idea deep within us that things should be perfect, or at least they should be the way we want them to be. I say “deep within us” because most of us, if asked, would say that we know things can’t be perfect. But there is something instinctual in us that feels that there is something wrong when things don’t go the way we think they should. Then we feel a need to fix the blame on who or what is wrong.

We may identify other people as the culprits, and blame it on their ignorance or laziness or evilness. Or we may blame it on the universe, and say that there is something wrong with this world in which we live. Or we may blame it on God for making a mistake and creating us and the world this way, or that God is playing cruel games with us. Or we may blame ourselves for not being perfect.

Not only is it depressing and awful to believe we are doomed to live forever in such a flawed, broken, and frustrating world, we often compound the stress and anxiety by trying to “fix” it. This can be not only stressful, but sometimes dangerous.

One common example of this battle against reality is the guy who refuses to accept the reality that he is getting older and can’t do everything he used to do. So he pushes himself to play tennis as if he is still 20 years younger and seriously injures himself. Another example is a couple who cannot accept the reality of their son being gay. The result is that they reject him, or let it affect their acceptance of him in other ways. There is no way to “fix” reality, and if we engage in the battle against it, we will always lose.

Imperfect reality is a big puzzle piece of our experience that we need to situate in our minds and hearts so that the stress and anxiety doesn’t drive us crazy. An alternative to fighting reality is to “go with the flow.” I’ve found this image helpful in describing going with the flow:

Life is like a river that is constantly flowing, and I am floating in the middle of it. I cannot stop the river (reality) from flowing. I can fight it by swimming as hard as I can upstream to prevent it from taking me downstream. I can do that for a while, but as I’m trying to head upstream, I run into tree limbs and logs and other debris that are being swept along by the river and I get bruised and injured. Eventually I run out of strength and can’t swim anymore. I am then in danger of drowning.

An alternative is to allow the river to carry me since I can’t stop it. Then I can use my energy, not to swim against the current, but to swim side to side, which enables me to avoid the floating debris coming down the river. I will last much longer with that strategy, and endure much less bruising and pain.

So what does this look like in real life? It has a lot to do with the familiar serenity prayer:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

We first have to come to the understanding that it is not our job to make things perfect, even if that were possible. Accepting this fact can relieve us of that impossible burden and the stress that comes with it.

Then we have to keep our focus on the present and what we can do now. Much stress and anxiety comes from regrets and blame we place on the past, or the fear of the future. The only thing we can do anything about is the present.

Then, as the serenity prayer says, we need to discern what things we can change and what things we can’t. This includes being honest about our abilities and the tasks we’d like to address. Biting off more than we can chew is always a recipe for stress. Choosing to accomplish something that is possible and manageable is much more pleasant than attempting the impossible.

Finally, as with all things, we need to trust that God is at work in this imperfect reality, which has been around long before we, and our ideas of how it should be, existed. That is trust, and is the antidote to fear, stress, and anxiety.

All of the videos in this series can be found here: Assembly God’s Puzzle.

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[Fr. Garry Richmeier, a Precious Blood priest and spiritual director, holds a Master’s of Divinity Degree from St John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, and a Master’s of Counseling Psychology degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He is a licensed professional counselor and a licensed marriage and family therapist.]

 Photo by Thamyres Silva


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