I have known of “The Serenity Prayer” since I was ten or eleven years old, from when my mother joined Alcoholics Anonymous, which was in its first decade of existence. The prayer still enjoys great popularity with 12 Step groups of all kinds as a tool to help people recover from addictions and achieve serenity in their lives.
For the past nine or ten years, I have made this prayer part of my spiritual practice saying it several times a day, either to myself or out loud. For those who are not familiar with the Prayer, here it is:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
I find this powerful prayer so simple to recite yet so challenging to practice. So I decided to reveal some of my personal challenges by dissecting it a bit and taking a deeper peek into my own challenges in regard to acceptance, change and making the distinctions between what I can do and what I can’t. Perhaps my own experience will evoke some insight for you, dear reader.
First of all, I often have trouble accepting things and labeling them as “unchangeable” – things that I can’t change, that is. I am deeply aware that I have the most control over changing myself and the least control over changing others. Despite this awareness, I feel called to do my best to change the world for the better by writing and speaking publicly and starting ventures that may have some influence in making the world a better place. This is my calling. It could be so easy to think some large social problem is beyond my capacity to influence positively, and therefore either ignore it or deny it exists. Yet those of us who live in democracies* all have some responsibility for things that affect us, don’t we? We are all part of a society that played some role, if not by our deeds then by our inaction or silence in allowing the problem to emerge in the first place.
Examples: For me, I know I myself cannot influence the path of asteroids or the orbit of the Earth and I accept that. I know I cannot change global warming by myself but I can still make an effort to influence people who can change things.
Then, the next challenge in the Prayer: having the ability to make change happen as well as the courage to act. Sometimes we can bring about change by being part of a movement, a crowd or community, each doing our part to make change happen. Challenges do not require us to have all the skills or even all the courage to take them on. Often, large scale social change comes about from the actions of groups of committed people, not necessarily the bravery of one individual.
Examples: Praying for the courage to stand tall for what I know to be the right thing to do for the sake of all humankind, even if it risks provoking the wrath of those who disagree with me, even if they are friends. I pray for the courage to tell myself the truth and not fall into ego-generated grandiosity or fantasy. I pray for the clarity that brings about wisdom.
When friends used to sarcastically ask me if I was “still trying to save the world?” it hurt sometimes. I recognized they saw me as some sort of modern day Quixote, tilting at my windmills, saving my “damsels.” Clearly, they would not waste their time tilting at these windmills nor did they see any damsels in distress. They put their time to a different use. As I got clearer about my calling and the need to influence change, however, the hurt diminished and I stopped taking the wisecracks so personally. As time has passed, more and more people seem to be recognizing these windmills and seeing that perhaps they are problems.
So now having looked at all of these things – things I can and cannot change - how do I make the distinctions to either muster the courage or accept the serenity, to try to change things or accept them? Where does this wisdom to know the difference come from?
Example: For me, the wisdom comes when I get clearer. I get increased clarity when I tell the truth, as difficult as it may be to recognize, about what I can and cannot do and what I can influence and what I cannot.
Well, “The Serenity Prayer” is just that, a prayer, a request of God as we understand him or her. Once I accept that there can be something greater than my individual will, a power greater than my own willfulness and ego, once I accept that “higher power” I will have opened the floodgates for the serenity, the courage and the wisdom to come through.
*Anyone living in a dictatorship or under fascism of any sort obviously has less control over things. To my knowledge, no one who subscribes to this blog lives in one of these countries. If anyone does and has another point-of-view about this, I would love to hear from them.