I didn’t always think much of what has come to be known as the Serenity Prayer.
I remember as a kid repeatedly reading the first four lines printed on a plate (or something) hanging on my grandmother’s wall. In fact, after reading those four lines on greeting cards and plaques and other kitsch for most of my life, I–like I suspect many people–thought this was the entire prayer.
But it’s not. There’s more, and it’s rich and deeply insightful. And the more life I live, the more I appreciate and find myself praying these profound words.
Let’s take a moment and reflect on the first two lines:
“God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change…”
I used to think this meant settling for the status quo, making excuses, and being weakly passive. Now I know better.
Now I know I can waste enormous amounts of time and energy laboring to change things outside my control and experience life-draining stress worrying about what isn’t and should be or what is and shouldn’t be. I bet you can, too.
I wise friend recently told me, “Accept what is.” I needed to hear that. I bet you do, too.
Here are some things I’ve discovered I cannot change:
1) The past
We have to stop living in the past. I know it’s cliché, but it’s true. Today and all its potential can be drained by reliving yesterday.
My past contains wounds I’ve suffered. If I keep picking at those scars they will never fully heal. My past contains mistakes and sins I regret. If I keep punishing myself for these I’ll never really be free of them.
Things I’ve done and things I’ve left undone, words I’ve said and left unsaid, injuries I’ve sustained and inflicted…so many things I would change if I could. But I can’t. I simply can not. That’s the point.
2) The choices and actions of others
People are going to do what they choose to do. If someone loves us it’s because they have chosen to do so. If they disregard or disrespect us, we learn something we need to know. No more illusions of control. No more make-believing we can conform others to our will, even when that will is for their highest and best good.
I have learned that I must care for and love others, encourage them, and believe the best for them. In some cases I may get to teach or counsel them. And I must do all this based on who they are as fellow humans, not what they do or how they treat me.
They may please and strengthen me, or disappoint and wound me, and will probably do both. The fact is, I cannot change this. If God Himself gives room to human freewill (imagine the constant disappointment He must feel), so must I.
3) God’s love for me
This, too, is something I cannot change. And something I must accept, as well. Thank God.
It’s from where my serenity—and sanity—is granted.