“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.” (Reinhold Niebuhr)
Many know that the Serenity Prayer is recited at the end of each meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. Few realize that one need not be an alcoholic to gain much from applying this simple philosophy to our daily lives.
We all experience unwanted events that we profoundly wish would never occur. Difficult parents or children, the loss of a job, the death of a loved one, traffic jams, poor health and inclement weather all have a way of inflicting hurt, pain, and disappointment on our otherwise happy existence. We tell ourselves, “This isn’t fair and shouldn’t be happening to me.” What we fail to do is accept that life inevitably has problems, and that every day we encounter events and behaviors that we simply do not like. It is helpful to acknowledge that we all have problems, some big, some little. This acceptance is the first step towards changing our lives for the better.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”
We cannot change many of the things we do not like. We cannot change the weather or events that have already occurred. We cannot change our blindness, our height, or our color. At times we cannot change what we have said or done and it may be impossible to change the attitudes and beliefs of others. We fight those things we can’t accept and we are often left bitter, angry, and resentful. To accept what we can, however, is calming and life giving. I am reminded of Richard Kopp, Ph.D. who speaks lovingly of his good friend the dialysis machine. He visits his friend several times a week and is allowed to live with failed kidneys. He doesn’t resent his friend; he appreciates its life giving qualities. Dr. Kopp was handed lemons and chose to make lemonade through his acceptance of that which he could not change.
“Courage to change the things I can.”
We all seem to admire those who have the courage to change the world around them—Martin Luther King, Terry Fox, Ghandi and Mother Teresa. We, too, can influence the happenings in our lives by simply changing ourselves so that we are more accepting, nonjudgmental, compassionate, and loving. We can emphasize the positive aspects and potentials of others and ourselves regardless of impediments. We all have the opportunity to right wrongs, support the good works of others, hug a child, or visit the elderly. We may not change the whole world but maybe we can change a small part of the world in which we live.
“And wisdom to know the difference.”
Our wisdom is our knowledge that we can handle whatever life throws at us—even flow with it. We can accept at some deep level that life has both good times and bad. With calmness and maturity we can discern if this is a situation that cannot be changed and therefore requiring our acceptance or is it one where we can take steps to improve the situation. This philosophical approach for coping with the difficulties of life helps us to enrich the lives of ourselves and those around us.