(I’m still a bit behind from my 25th anniversary trip to Hawaii, so as I ramp back up, here’s a reprise of one of my most popular posts.)
Most of us have probably heard the Serenity Prayer at some point in our lives by now. If not, you’re in for a treat:
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.
These three lines, if put into practice, will radically shift your experience of life. They comprise the very definition of what it means to be present.
Let’s examine the prayer line by line.
- God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
This is the key to being present. It’s also called allowing, not resisting, and my favorite: not arguing with reality. I’m reminded of the turn of phrase I sometimes hear when I ask people how they are: “Can’t complain. Wouldn’t do any good anyway.” Precisely! To Accept what you cannot change is to live in constant serenity.
In a traffic jam, it does no good to curse or honk your horn or fume silently. None of these actions or attitudes can change the situation. If, instead, you accept what is—the traffic jam—you can sit in peace, waiting for the circumstances to change. Might even be a nice opportunity to be still and quiet…
- The courage to change the things I can
There are many circumstances that you can change, however. If your job makes you miserable, you can change that circumstance in several ways: find another job, talk to your boss about how you could possibly make your job less miserable, or transfer to another position in-house. You could even do the inner work of coming to terms about what feels miserable in your job and change by learning to accept it.
I recognize that the last option is not always viable. If, for instance, what makes you miserable is that you know your organization is breaking the law or otherwise acting unethically, that’s not something inner work will resolve. What you can do is be courageous in leaving the company or even blowing the whistle. Which segues nicely into the third phrase of the prayer.
- And the wisdom to know the difference.
This is the clincher. Some personality types act out of a need to take care of others, and some from a need to right injustice. Every personality has its motives, and because they originate in the mind, they are not always pure and therefore not always trustworthy. This is where the intervention of God’s wisdom comes in.
You may think, due to the particular tenets of your Superego’s message, that a particular situation is unjust – but no one else does. You may instead need to accept that circumstance and understand that your definition of injustice is not universal.
If you are in an abusive relationship, it is critical to recognize that you cannot change the abuser’s behavior. What you can do is courageously choose to leave that toxic circumstance. In this way, you fulfill both parts of the prayer. You accept the reality that the abuser’s behavior will not change, AND you change what you can – your relationship status, by getting out. The wisdom of God is able to cut through the lies of wishful thinking and of helplessness to bring much-needed serenity to your life.
I hope you’ll agree with me that the Serenity Prayer provides a brilliantly succinct roadmap to a peaceful life. May God grant you serenity, courage and wisdom on your journey.