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  • Janyne McConnaughey, PhD

How Not to be a Fixer

This morning I decided to catch up on my son's recent sermons and God met me there—not in necessarily pleasant ways, but certainly transforming. I kind of felt like I had been shown a red card. One filled with God's desire for me to live my very best life. I will return to this, but first . . .

I spent most of my life denying my very justifiable anger. Part of healing was a long painful process of not denying all the reasons I became angry—and then figuring out how to appropriately release the anger versus suppressing it. The truth is, without that burning fire of anger inside of me, I could not have lived the life I lived. I am grateful for God’s grace and all my friends and mentors who enabled me to use that fire to do all the good I could—without intentionally harming anyone.

But 2020. How many of us could start a paragraph that way? If ever there was a year that had the power to draw anger from deep inside us, this is it. Justifiable concerns, being socially isolated, and in my case finding no place to isolate, has taken its toll. All the things vanished that could have helped me ignore the deep well of anger still inside me. And this week, I realized that my angry survival strategies removed the word acceptance from my vocabulary. In my mind, acceptance was a failure—it was giving up.

My inability to accept was a powerful driver in my life. It resulted in unhealthy strategies such as denial, suppression/repression, and building narratives that were much better than the actual truth of my story. The process of un-layering this has been like peeling an onion for six solid years. While these strategies helped me survive, they now rob me of peace and contentment. 2020 has been hard because my anger and survival strategies make me want to FIX everything. And clearly, this year has provided plenty of fodder for the fixer-drive—and reasons to be angry.

Yesterday, I faced my inability to accept certain things and the anger that was driving it. I heard myself say, “but if I just accept this, that means I am giving up.” I was still in that muddle of emotions when an email popped up with the Serenity Prayer. I sighed, “OK God. We will camp here tomorrow.” And here I am. But decided to listen to my son’s sermons before reflecting. That is when the word accommodation appeared.

My new insight: The first time the Bible says that God was angry at something or someone was when talking to Moses at the burning bush. I linked the sermon above, but these were my thoughts after listening:

When God was angry with Moses because he couldn’t believe in himself enough to do the job God knew he could/was capable of doing, God accommodated and did a workaround—without berating Moses. God didn’t try to make him do anything or even try to fix him. Instead, God simply found a way for Moses to continue to help with the plan. The goal of setting people free was more important than the inability of Moses to fully participate in the way God offered. God already knew Moses would struggle and had Aaron on the way. Despite this, Moses was given the opportunity to participate in a workaround accommodation.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I am a fixer, an angry fixer to be exact. I would have tried to fix Moses, so he could have done the job himself. When I read the serenity prayer, my personal wisdom insists that everything and everyone can be changed.

The original version places change first:

Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other. -Reinhold Niebuhr

That feels more human. I rarely accept that something can’t change until the proverbial dead horse has been kicked around the stable several times and I am in a puddle of frustration. I don’t want to accept anything until I know there is absolutely no hope for change. And that feels like giving up.

This is in absolute contrast to God’s response. God was angry, accepted where Moses was and accommodated him so the plan for the Israelites could move ahead. And forty-plus years later, the Israelite people arrived in the promised land.

Yet, unlike God, I sometimes want to fix people. The truth is that the only person I can change is me. Today that means that my angry fixer-self is going to take a deep breath and accept those things I cannot change. It is impossible to love unconditionally while trying to fix someone (or lots of someones). It still feels a bit like giving up, but it isn't. It is accepting and accommodating.

I can follow God’s example of compassionate love shown to Moses. God’s anger was justified after showing Moses all the signs and wonders that would prove “I am” had sent him. God’s response demonstrates that when we try to make God in our human image, we completely miss the point of these three words: anger, acceptance, and accommodation. The cure for being a fixer is to be like God and love unconditionally.

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