Every year I look back on the events of the past 12 months and think, “Wow. Did that REALLY happen?” It seems that like so many others, God has read my list of best-laid plans and, like the consummate editor he is, made his own revisions – to everything - my work, my relationships, my children, my life.
This used to really piss me off. Still does, sometimes.
Because then it’s just more dirty items on my laundry list of “Things I Have to
Fix”. Shoot, God. I thought that job was going to work out. Dammit, God, I
thought he was the one. For God’s sake, God, I thought my kid was out of the
woods. All right, God, can you just give me a break here? I can’t manage all
this. It’s too much. I’m losing control.
Exactly. That's not necessarily a bad thing, losing control.
Certain support and recovery groups use the Serenity Prayer
as their mantra, but you can find it on posters and coffee mugs and internet
memes all over, so it’s pretty universal. Come on, say it with me:
“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
It’s easy to say that and not realize what you’re saying. So
let’s break it down.
GOD First of all, the God thing. For those of you who don’t believe in God,
look at it this way. GOD can stand for a lot of things: Good Orderly Direction,
Gift Of Desperation, whatever it is that you look up to when you’re down. In
recovery circles, they refer to this as your Higher Power. Your Higher Power is
whatever you see that’s stronger than you, that you can rely on, that you can
talk to in a time of crisis. It can be a deity, or a person, or a group –
wherever you find your strength to move through this life. And you don’t even
have to call it a prayer. Consider it more of a mantra, which is the cool thing
nowadays anyway given all the mindfulness and meditation that is so prevalent - and effective -
in our culture.
No, no no. That's not right.
Grant me the serenity
You’re not asking to be given serenity. By definition, “grant” means to bestow
or agree to, as in “grant a request”. It also means to admit or concede, so
right there you’re kind of letting go and admitting you need something else – a
power greater than yourself – to grant you this characteristic. Grant also
means to transfer, which makes sense, because a Higher Power has what you need,
and is willing to bestow it upon you if you ask. And what you’re asking for is
serenity – calm. Peace of mind. Repose. This doesn’t mean you’re asking for
everything to be FIXED, or GO AWAY. You’re asking that YOU be given the
placidity to move through it all.
To accept the things
I cannot change … Whoa. What? You give me the hardest line right out of the gate. What do you
mean “accept the things I can’t change”? Doesn’t that mean – gasp – letting go
of CONTROL???? How am I supposed to change anything if I just sit back and say,
“Well, there’s nothing I can do about that!”
Because there are some things – some situations – some people
– in this world you can’t change. Especially if they’re not YOU – and most of
them aren’t. Maybe you think if you could just say the right words to your
friend she’d leave her abusive husband. You’ll even risk your friendship trying
to convince her of something she doesn’t yet believe. Maybe you think if you
put stiff restrictions on your teenager and monitor his every move he won’t
keep doing drugs or abusing alcohol. But if he wants to do it, he’s going to
find a way regardless of your rules. Maybe you don’t agree with a lifestyle choice
a family member has made and you take every chance you get to let him know, and
your relationship with him suffers as a result. You didn't change them anyway, you just pissed them off. It's not up to you. It’s up to THEM to find THEIR Higher Power and say
the next line of the mantra for THEMSELVES, which is …
The courage to change
the things I can …
See, you need courage, because the things you can change are
right there in the mirror. You. That’s the only change you have even some semblance
of control over, and that change can be as hard as shit on a cold day. It's realizing you're judging others and making
“recommendations” on how they could better themselves or their situations. STOP IT. Unless you’re a
therapist or they’re asking directly for your help and advice, zip it up and concentrate
No, this isn’t being selfish, and in some cases, it will improve
your relationship with those people you are trying so hard to change. Because
here’s the deal. There are lots of ways you can learn how to better
communicate with, better process and better understand those around you, and that’s
by learning and listening. That can be sitting with a despondent
friend who just needs someone to talk to and NOT telling them to “cheer up” or "go for a walk and you'll feel better." It's reading books or finding support groups to educate yourself on addiction in
order to understand to some extent what someone struggling with the disease is facing, and
realizing that your advice and restrictions are only fueling their fire because
the addiction is not YOURS, it is THEIRS, and no one but THEM will ever be the
deciding factor to get help.
In many cases, it will be deciding to change how you
interact with or react to these people. Maybe you "love and let be", and accept the issues you have with them. Maybe you can no longer be their
friend, or engage in a discussion about a certain topic. Maybe you realize it's unhealthy for them to remain
in your home or be financially dependent on you. Maybe, for the
sake of your own serenity, you need to make changes to relationships that are
incredibly tough but also necessary for your own self-preservation. It isn’t
selfish, especially if you find that those relationships are having a negative impact on you and your life.
And the wisdom to
know the difference. It’s a tall order, asking for serenity AND wisdom. But there is sometimes a
fine line between knowing what you can and can’t change. The rule of thumb is
that basically you can change yourself; others you can only love. You can get a new job, move to a new
town, decide to enter or exit a relationship, dress a certain way, eat certain
foods, take care of your body positively or negatively. That’s all on you.
can’t do all that for someone else, and telling them what they need to do to
change whatever it is you want them to change is an exercise in futility.
Again, if they ask you for help, that’s one thing. If they want to change and
they need guidance, that’s a different story. But you have to stop thinking –
even though you may think you KNOW what is best and good and right – that you
have the power to change someone else. You don’t – only they do. The sooner you
know the difference, the sooner you can start bettering yourself and stop bashing your head against the wall.
One more thing … Sometimes, two little words are added to this saying that make all the
difference in the world. For today. Not for this week, or this year, or this
lifetime. Just for today. Because as I eluded to earlier, “You plan and God
laughs.” You don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, or the next day or the
next. So don’t ask for serenity for those days until they’re here. Focus on
today. Focus on now, and how you can accept what you can’t change, change what
you can, and become smart enough to know the difference.