How often do you want to “fix things” for someone you love because you (think you) see so much more clearly than he does? For me, this urge runs in cycles. The hardest lesson I’ve ever learned — and one I have to relearn, periodically — is that sometimes I just can’t change things. Agency is not just the right for me to choose for my life; it is also, obviously, for others to choose for their lives.
When someone chooses poorly, we are sometimes in a position to do something about it: A father whose son is involved with illicit drugs has the duty and sometimes the power to try to “fix things.” But while a father can force his son into treatment at age 15, that option is not usually available to the father of a 25-year-old. Less direct relationships — even when love is great — leave even fewer options for direct involvement in the choices and solutions for others’ problems.
Once upon a time I carried a clipping from an Ensign article everywhere I went, reading it several times a day, because it acknowledged so clearly what I was feeling and it helped to know that someone else understood:
Such challenges can be overcome because we have some control over them. There are others, however, that are not subject to our control.
Some changes come into our lives as unbidden guests, drawing after them murky clouds of unhappiness and desolation. We may be forced to deal with drug addiction in a family member or friend, or with the deviate behavior, divorce, child abuse, incest, criminality, immorality, psychiatric disturbance, illness, or death of someone close to us. We may even find ourselves the innocent victims of physical assault. Such challenges are not of our choosing, but our suffering is not diminished in the slightest by that fact.
Though our emotions cry out in righteous protest, in our quiet hours we realize that these intrusions into the stability of our lives are the result of choices made by others and are the price we have to pay for the right to live in a world of moral freedom of choice, where good and evil are forever opposing each other in an ongoing struggle for supremacy. This does not mean that we accept these evils, or accept them as inevitable. It means only that we must be prepared to suffer for the privilege of living in a world of imperfect but autonomous human beings with whom we are interconnected by ties of love and affection.
Since we are often powerless to avert such changes brought about by others, our approach must be not so much how to avoid them, but how to cope with them. It is more a matter of acquiring healthy mental attitudes that enable us to understand these changes, adjust to them, and help the one with the problem rebuild in the wake of disaster. (David S. King, Dealing Successfully with Change)
Other readings that have been of great help to me during other times of struggling to deal with someone else’s choices have been Keeping the Door Open and the Stew Hot and Letting Go Without Giving Up. And I write bad sonnets.
My cat prowls through the brush: a whirr of wing
Marks the sudden, not unpanicked flight by
Cautious bird. But if her nest is there, I
See her gamble safe escape to limp and sing
Until the danger is enticed away.
Her act and art have saved her young, and she
Will live, for now, but would as willingly
Have died in her attempt at luring play.
I have no son, but him I love as mine
Was threatened early to be led away
By one who knew not, cared not, what she did.
Unlike that bird, I had no right by sign
Or word to interfere or make them stay.
Heart bleeds, soul weeps; the reason must be hid.
What do you do to cope with the choices made by others when you can only stand by — loving, advising, ready to bail them out to the extent you are able — but cannot take charge of correcting their course?