The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Ok, so I truly believe God has been whispering this simple little prayer in my ear every day for about a month now and how blessed I feel. I was raised in a violent alcoholic home. Chaos was the benchmark of a typical day. There were holes in the walls from my father’s fits of anger, broken sliding glass doors, numerous visits from the police, and believe me, crying was not an activity we reserved for hallmark moments. I think my parents must have separated no less than 10 times until they finally called it quits when I was 17. And the support groups – those silly, sappy, nauseating meetings that reeked of weakness, self-pity and desperation – those were my favorite part of the journey (haha). Let’s see…there was Overcomers, ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics), New Life, Alateen (we actually sang about sunshine at the beginning of the meeting), and many, many more. Friends of Bill W. we certainly were and lifelong friends it seemed at times. And finally the vicious cycle ended a year before I graduated and along with it, the endless stream of rehab hospitals and therapy sessions…at least until I turned 24.
And so, following in my father’s footsteps to some extent, I landed myself in jail with a DUI, a $2,400 fine, a 7-year probation, and 6 AA meetings. And yes, I actually went to the required meetings and trust me, they don’t take well to DUI offenders who don’t necessarily choose to sit in on their little therapy sessions, but are required to do so by the courts. So there I sat, writhing in my seat, uneasy that it felt all too familiar. The 12 step posters on the wall, the faces that longed for a reclamation of jobs and families lost, and the coffee that offered little solace to unanswered cravings. And though the anything-but-fond memories that came flooding back were not unfamiliar, they still seemed to fill me with the same contempt they had 7 years prior. The words on the walls carried no meaning; they were just empty recitations to fill an hour and a half…until this past month.
What amuses me is that I bought a stone tablet engraved with the Serenity Prayer about a year ago and it hangs on my bedroom wall still, yet I don’t think I’ve ever noticed it, let alone stopped to reflect. And so God spoke and for the first time, I listened. And He has spoken it to me every day for about a month now and I’m still listening. But now, I’m understanding. And the little prayer that I used to recite in meetings with my family has now taken hold of my heart and I believe, is directing my steps to some extent.
So let me first share what I love the most about it – the title, the Serenity Prayer. Serenity is defined as a state of being serene, which is to be “clear and free of storms or unpleasant change.” Basically, it’s a prayer to God for peace in the middle of a storm. Sometimes I feel like my entire life is a storm, so to ask God for serenity is to ask God how to deal with my life at any and every given moment. What do I need, God, to get through each day, each hour, and even each minute? And so begins the prayer I’ve come to love. Let me break it down for you the way I believe God is breaking it down for me right now.
God grant me the serenity (God allow me for just one peaceful moment),
To accept the things I cannot change (OTHER PEOPLE),
The courage to change the things I can (ME),
And the wisdom to know the difference (half a brain to get it right).
And suddenly this simple, little prayer I used to recite with disdain and contempt has profound meaning to me.
…to accept the things I cannot change. You will never be able to change someone who is not ready and willing to change. Whatever opinions we have that drive our passions, our beliefs and the way we choose to live our lives are just that – the way WE choose to live OUR lives (or if you really want to break it down, the way God chooses for each of us to live our lives). The path God leads me down may never cross the path of one of His other children. I believe He directs all of our steps, but not necessarily in exactly the same direction. I am free to express my desires and convictions, but that doesn’t mean they ring true for everyone. How much energy have I expended unnecessarily to ensure everyone else around me “gets it” and is on board with my way of thinking? Maybe I’m the one who doesn’t “get it.” It certainly wouldn’t be the first time. I’ve been way off the mark way more often than I care to admit and didn’t see it until much later, so why would I ever presume to know what’s right for someone else at any given moment? I think we can certainly influence those around us (in positive and negative ways) and I’m all for sharing our beliefs, along with our struggles, our heart cries, our joys and our sorrows, but at the end of the day, we may still end up at opposite ends of the spectrum. Chances are, we’ll spend most of our time waving to each other from across a crowded room, trying to meet somewhere in the middle, but likely running around in circles.
I think for the most part, we assume that most people are dumber than they actually are. We presume - by attempting to sway their philosophies – to be giving them new information, advice that will surely help them along on their quest for maturity, when in actuality, they probably already know what course of action will serve them best. Until they are ready to choose that course, our attempts at educating them are feeble. People hear only what they want to hear (the other stuff gets filtered out – that pesky selective hearing) and only when they want to hear it. Also, our intentions, as noble as they may seem, are probably often flawed and thus, fall on deaf ears. We seek to change the minds of others and get them to align with our ideals, but it’s often under the guise of great concern for their well-being. So let me lay it out for you, plain and simple and please don’t take offense. You may care for someone desperately and even act out of that concern from time to time. You may try tirelessly to steer someone down a path you believe to be much more of a blessing to them. God forbid, you may even be right, but I speak from 17 years of experience and living with an alcoholic when I say…YOU WILL NOT CHANGE SOMEONE WHO IS NOT READY TO CHANGE!!! And so you speak your peace (in love, of course) and you accept that you cannot change anyone but yourself and then you do what is necessary for you to move on with your life. To quote the Beatles, “Let it Be.” And if you still feel the need to speak your peace until you’re blue in the face, speak it to God. He’ll always listen. And here’s something scary – you may find out that it wasn’t the other person that needed changing in the first place.
…the courage to change the things I can. If it seems things are spinning out of control, chances are they are. There are few things in life we can control and countless millions we cannot, rarely our circumstances and certainly not other people. What’s truly ironic and altogether frustrating is that the more we try to control the world around us, the more control we lose. So where is the light in the dark this time? There is one thing we have some semblance of control over – ourselves. And I believe that though asking for courage is a great place to start, the only way to truly gain control over ourselves is to first surrender control to God. And then, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13
I can restrain my anger, contain my frustration, and maintain my composure.
I can listen intently, wait patiently, and speak intelligently.
I can organize my thoughts, criticize my actions, and empathize with weakness.
I can let go of bitterness and hold on to fond memories.
I can receive constructive criticism, respond with humility, and rejoice in lessons learned.
I can stand up for what I believe in, stand down when I know I’m wrong, and stand alone when others have fled.
I can trust in God’s promises, lean on His grace, and rest in His presence.
There are a million words you can substitute for courage in the Serenity Prayer. God grant me the strength to change the things I can, the desire, the will, the energy, even the patience, but the one I love most is faith. Above all else, I need faith to change the things I do have control over.
…and the wisdom to know the difference. This one is pretty self-explanatory. God, help me not to dumb myself down in this area. Learning to surrender our pride and accept that there are certain things in life we cannot change is no small feat, but the ability to recognize those things is paramount. And even greater still is the ability to overcome our tendency to deceive ourselves and switch the two. So often, we convince ourselves that we are unable to change as a mechanism to excuse our actions and deem ourselves a “victim.” Then we further complicate the issue by turning our efforts outward and convincing ourselves that we can change others. And so the vicious cycle continues. The only way to break the cycle is to shift our need for control back to where it belongs, to determine how we can change ourselves to adapt and cope with the circumstances we are faced with. Wisdom in this area and genuine honesty with ourselves go hand in hand. If we are honest about our motives and courageous enough to affect change from within, then God has truly granted us the wisdom to know the difference.