I recently came across a technique for spiritual practice that I just love. It’s called a God Box and seems to have come from somewhere in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, although there is no mention of it in any AA literature.
I can see a connection to the tenets of AA, though; most clearly as a tangible symbol of the first part of the serenity prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” I have always appreciated this prayer, but it wasn’t until recently that I grew to embrace it fully. It encapsulates perfectly what I feel prayer should be: making a conscious choice to live out God’s will, rather than asking Him for specifics. And surrendering to His will is exactly the point of the God Box.
In simplest terms, a God Box is a container in which we place our worries so we can turn them over to His care. It can take any form. Some people might use an old envelope, while others create an elaborate collage on a shoebox. Stores that carry AA-themed merchandise sell ornately carved wooden boxes with hinged lids.
How the box looks is a personal choice, of course, but looks are not the primary purpose. Instead, what goes inside is the focus of the God Box.
Some choose to write down a worry they know they need to let go of. Some just speak into the box. Some place an object that symbolizes the situation they are having difficulty with. How it’s done doesn’t really matter – again, the focus is not on the object, but on the process. The beautiful simplicity of the God Box is that we are fully surrendering our situation over to Him in a physical, concrete, tangible way. That’s all it is – simple, yet so powerful.
I decided to use an empty box that was collecting dust among my jewelry boxes. Because of its shape – tall and narrow, with openings only on the top – it wasn’t suited for jewelry, but it made a perfect God Box.
I really gave it some thought about what I needed to surrender to Him. First thing I wrote, folded up and put in: “I surrender my need for financial security.” This was right after I learned so much about St. Francis, but I’d also lost one of my jobs and was terrified at the considerable loss of income.
I did this before going to bed. I cannot really describe the internal shift I felt. I just know that when I woke up the next morning, I felt completely at peace. Of course, nothing external had changed. In fact, I’m still underemployed as I write this. But I’m starting to learn that it’s never the external conditions that cause the angst in life – it’s the inability to accept those conditions.
Cue the serenity prayer once again!
This particular instance isn’t exactly a situation wherein I need to “accept the thing I cannot change.” Obviously, I’m aware that I still need to find more work.
But the liberating power in the God Box is that it lets Him do the worrying while I can search the want ads. I’ve lived long enough to see that any endeavor driven by panic and desperation almost never works out. And that is precisely why the second part of the serenity prayer follows: in the act of surrendering to His will, we automatically gain the “courage to change” and take action from a calm, centered place.
Pen to paper
I’d already given up my Relationship X-Ray Machine, so I thought of other things to surrender: other people’s opinions of me; past hurts; a loved one’s struggle with personal issues; and the irrational desire to somehow halt the aging process in my mother. All of them went into the God Box.
Writing each thought down allowed me to articulate my problems in a way that I hadn’t perceived initially. It felt liberating to fold up each paper and say, “OK, God, it’s in Your hands now,” and walk away.
Some people who wrote about their experiences with the God Box mentioned how they would open it after a year or so and take out all the prayers. They gained tremendous insight into how much progress they’d made, and how good God is at handling their problems.
I’m not sure I’d want to do that, because I don’t like re-living past experiences. I can, however, see how this provides us with a useful gauge of progress. In fact, I can also see how this is a tangible manifestation of the third part of the serenity prayer. In looking back at the things we needed to hand over to Him, we can see how much we learned “the wisdom to know the difference.”
Wisdom, of course, is gained over time; and we could only determine that by looking back at the past.
In the meantime, I plan on continuing this practice, if only for the freedom in surrendering to His will. Of course, if these prayers get answered as well, it’s even more rewarding!
Michael Rose reflects on the art of letter writing.