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The Spirituality of Losing Control

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My wife and I were scheduled to fly out of Dulles International Airport on the morning of Feb. 13. Our destination was California and the Presidents Day Renaissance Weekend, sometimes called "the granddaddy of ideas festivals." The program looked excellent, and after a cold winter in the DC area we were anxious to soak up some warmth and sunshine in Laguna Niguel.

But Winter Storm Pax had a different idea.

Knowing the storm was coming, we booked a room at an airport hotel to avoid driving in the snow. The storm hit, and before we went to sleep our morning flight was canceled. No big deal, we thought, as the airline rebooked us on an evening flight.

When we woke up the next day, however, we learned that the evening flight had also been canceled. We were stuck in DC, with no flight out for another three days. I guess when a storm causes the cancellation of 6000 flights, it takes a while to reboot the system.

When Pax's foot of snow had been cleared, we drove home and unpacked our bags. There would be no Renaissance Weekend for us. Disappointing, yes, but not a disaster. Our California daughter was fortunately able to drive to Laguna Niguel, along with a friend, to take our places at a portion of the conference. First time we've ever given her the gift of a weekend at the Ritz-Carlton!

Our high-tech 21st-century world has seduced us into thinking that we can do anything we want, at any time. Fly to California for the weekend! Watch any movie online or streaming to your TV! Shop at most stores seven days a week, and on the internet 24/7! Connect with friends instantly via social media!

But weather can stop us in our tracks and remind us that we are not in control. Winter Storm Pax prevented me from traveling to a long-awaited conference, and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

Of course, my frustration was nothing compared to the half a million people who lost power in the storm. Gone was their movie streaming and internet shopping, along with heat and light. For them, the storm tipped from an inconvenience to a very real threat.

"Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me," says Psalm 57:1, "for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, until the destroying storms pass by." Our ancestors had a spirituality of storms that we are in danger of losing today. They accepted that they were not in control of their environment, knowing that destroying storms would certainly pass by. Instead of expressing anger at the forces of nature, they turned to God for refuge and strength.

I find it hard to hunker down and simply allow the storm to pass by. As soon as my wife and I arrived home, we began to think about what else we could do over the weekend. We knew that our college-age son was running in a track meet in New York City, so we began to investigate the possibility of traveling there by train or car. But train service was being affected by the storm (no big surprise, really) and the roads were still quite treacherous. We decided not to risk it.

The day of the track meet, we woke up to learn that the Baltimore-Washington Parkway had been closed due to a weather-related accident. The Pennsylvania Turnpike was jammed with a 100-car pileup. Sometimes we need to stay put "until the destroying storms pass by."

Winter Storm Pax is the most ironic of names, since Pax means "peace" and it was anything but peaceful as it roared up the coast. But the storm has taught me that peace is sometimes found in simply accepting the fact that we are not in complete control. As the Serenity Prayer says so well, "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."

The spirituality of losing control involves seeking refuge in God until the storms pass by, while praying for serenity to accept the things we cannot change. True for winter storms, and for the personal storms we have to face as well.