Last week, I declared email bankruptcy. Why? Well, my computer crashed the week before, and despite the hours upon hours I've spent trying to recover my email, it looks like I've lost all those records of communication and have had problems sending and receiving emails for the last two weeks!
I know technology shouldn't have such a hold on my life, but I've felt defeated!
Of course, when I really think about it, I know that this is probably not the thing that's ultimately going to defeat me. But at the same time, I recognize how powerful the feelings of powerlessness can be. While I joked about being in an "email hell" — there was some truth to it. This inability to do my work is hard to deal with. It's beyond my control and I have to admit I'm not comfortable losing control! I feel out of touch. I feel vulnerable. I feel disempowered.
Sometimes we are thrust into these moments of powerlessness and, like my inability to fix my email, there is nothing we can do about it. The challenge is to figure out how we respond when we find ourselves powerless.
The truth is, losing one's email and several hours of frustration is ultimately a minor inconvenience in a lifetime. But it is a reminder that we don't have full control of our lives. Any who have suffered an illness or disease know this. All of us who have experienced death have been forced into this realization. Too many in this world have been disempowered by systems that work against them, forces that are beyond their control. Just this month, our nation reels in pain after the disheartening ruling that leaves us frightened for our children's safety and aware once again that racism pervades our country. When we feel like we can't trust the system that we live in, how can we not feel powerless?
And yet, I am reminded that our God is a God of all power! And it is out of that divine power that we find strength — that we find our power! It doesn't always come the way we want it to appear. Just think about the slaves in the Confederate South and the oppression they suffered and the way they called upon God in song and prayer and ultimately found joy in God's blessings even in the midst of an earthly hell.
Or consider the 11 million undocumented residents of our nation who work hard, yet live in fear of deportation, having sought the American Dream our nation was founded upon. I have witnessed their bravery and courage and their willingness to speak out even at the risk of their own safety. Somehow they find the strength to carry on despite their lack of power in a system so much bigger than themselves.
Or I think about gays and lesbians who have felt abandoned even by God, when, in fact, it has been the religious institutions that have used God to condemn and oppress. How awful it must feel to be powerless even before God! How tragic it is that God has been used by a weapon of oppression!
And yet, even in the face of all this powerlessness and hopelessness, our faith reminds us that God is in the business of empowerment!
As I think about my own small problems and the way they have made me feel out of control and disempowered, I realize that we constantly live in a state of flux. We live in the tension between our power and our lack of power. We have to recognize both our inability to control our situation and our ability to do so. There is humility in this recognition, and there is also power in that humility.
And so I pray the prayer that has provided both comfort and power to thousands over the years: a prayer written by one in our denomination, and used in the 12 Step program — Reinhold Niebuhr's Serenity Prayer:
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.
And somehow we find serenity even in our powerlessness, and we also find a sense of power we didn't think we had. Perhaps the lesson of the maddening email was worthwhile after all...
THE REV. SARAH HALVERSON is the pastor of Fairview Community Church in Costa Mesa.