This is the first of three posts on the Serenity Prayer that has been popular with 12 Step movements since the 30’s.

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.

Today I’m going to write about that first idea — “the serenity to accept the things I cannot change”. 

At any given moment, we likely find something at least mildly upsetting — a political issue, an annoying situation at work, a friend who said the wrong thing, a spouse who didn’t say anything when they should have, and on and on.  Hopefully most of your causes of upset are minor and usually in the back of your mind.  But, big or small, notice the pattern across these examples — they’re all things you can’t control — we are often upset about things we can’t control.  So how do we replace upset with serenity?

The prayer suggests we should try acceptance, since can’t change what we just admitted is outside our control.  We might buy into that wisdom in a moment of calm reflection.  But in the heat of the action — when some politician blew it once again, when your friend said something deeply hurtful, when you just lost your job for no good reason — you’re more likely to try rage, discouragement, fear or whatever other self-destructive emotion is your personal favorite.  Eventually, hopefully, you will calm down and ask yourself what is the best way to deal with the situation. 

Some people will choose the option of seething resentment, punishing themselves, or perhaps endless complaining, forcing others to share their misery.  But there are more constructive options.  You can try to influence the outcome — protesting the politicians, speaking to the friend or spouse, working for change.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  However things turn out, you won’t get to serenity unless you are emotionally willing to accept the result, even if it’s not what you wanted. 

It should be relatively easy to accept this advice if the issue is getting cut off in traffic, but immensely more difficult if it’s a terminal diagnosis.  But it’s still good advice.

Some coaches and self-help gurus will offer you a back door solution, promising miraculous results if you have sufficient faith or positivity.  Not me — I acknowledge that there are many situations I truly cannot control.  Other people, God, the gods, Fate or the indifferent Universe will do as they will.  I can do my best to make a difference, but, in the end, I must accept the outcome with serenity.  I don’t expect the Universe to obey me.

If the Prayer stopped after that first line, it would leave us in a place of comfortable disempowerment — not very appealing to anybody who still has a heartbeat!  But it’s not over yet.  Come back tomorrow for my post on the second line — that’s when we get to really take charge.

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