One year when I was enrolled in Self-Pity 101 and deeply involved in my studies, a close friend who belonged to a 12 Step program invited me to a retreat at the Ralston White Mansion in Marin County. I doubted that her program could do a better job than mine of addressing my top concern, myself, but I agreed to attend because the destination intrigued me. I looked forward to seeing the historic house nestled in the redwoods. I arrived on a wet, windy Saturday morning in December. Long branches of moss-laden redwoods swayed as a storm ripped through northern California.
That afternoon, rain pounded against the picture windows while I sat on a sofa in a workshop on God Boxes. I listened to thirty-something Jessie who held a cigar box covered with a collage of paint, photos, and rice paper. She said, “My God Box holds the problems I turn over to my higher power.”
I crossed my legs and amused myself by rolling my ankle and counting the times it circled around. This craft project might be a misplaced belief in magic. A decorated container seemed as helpful as magic underwear. That is, not at all.
My problems were unique, and if not one-of-a-kind, worse than everyone else’s. It seemed such an unfair stroke of luck that my children seldom found time to visit. I resented that their flights to independence left my nest empty.
As if she read my mind, Jessie laughed and pushed back her dark, curly, long hair. “Everything I’ve let go of has claw marks on it.” That caught my attention. She shared her story about leaving a physically abusive partner and struggling with alcohol, coming across happy, and calm. I wanted the peace that she had.
Jessie shared a quote from Martin Luther. “I have held many things in my hands and have lost them all, but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.” She continued, “A God Box holds that which one places in God’s hands: unsolved problems, unanswered questions, sorrows, and unrequited love, the things you wish to let go of and give to God. On a slip of paper, write a sentence, phrase, or single word about the relationship or any other concern that seems to have no solution,” she said. “In so doing, a ritual is created that help you let go and turn it over to God. You can more easily let go after making a symbolic gesture of turning over the concern to God."
I moved to the table with magazines, glued a copy of Martin Luther’s quote on the inside lid of a box, and made my own God Box. I wrote my kids’s names on two slips of paper. When I tucked the papers inside the God Box, I recalled Jessie’s words. “Life has its mysteries and I am not in charge.”
As we finished our boxes, Jessie said, “You may say it’s only a box, but it’s no small thing to make a ritual of letting go. Whatever you place in your God Box, you turn over to the Divine.”On Sunday afternoon, I made a conscious decision to stop worrying about my son and daughter. They were on their own paths. I still missed them, but I started accepting the fact that their lives no longer revolved around me. I felt blessed to have two incredible children who were healthy and pursuing their own forms of happiness.
My situation was a slice of the human condition, a drama, yes, but a plain vanilla one because almost all parents wish to see more of their children. I started seeing myself as not so unique, but as a parent among parents, a mother among mothers. Life wasn’t all about me. After all, the children were okay, loved me, and I loved them. They were healthy and busy following their dreams. I felt truly blessed. Driving home, I surveyed the sun-kissed landscape and decided it was time to sign up for Acceptance 101.