Are you familiar with the Serenity Prayer? God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the strength to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”. This prayer has been a strong part of my therapeutic approach over the years. It has a good deal of meaning behind it, reminding us that there are things that we cannot change in this world, as well as that the things that can be changed can take a good deal of strength. It reminds us that we don’t always see the difference between the things we can change and those we can’t. We all want to feel as though we are in control. We want control not only of ourselves (which anyone that has ever had a cold knows isn’t always the case), but our environment (and anyone with allergies knows that isn’t realistic either).
When control is lost, we compensate often with anger toward ourselves or others. When we don’t have the recognition that the situation cannot be controlled, we often try to create control. These attempts to try to create control often create more misery than control. The feelings of powerlessness we are struggling with just get stronger and stronger the more we try to manage the things that are outside of our control, and we become more irritable, anxious, and angry. There are some things in this life we will have no control over. We will never have control over how others think or act. We will never have control over the weather, Facebook trolls, or traffic. These things are out of our control. We easily accept our lack of control over the weather. We have no problem changing our behavior for the weather. We have more difficulty accepting how other people see us, our hair, Facebook trolls, or traffic.
We spend a good deal of energy working to control the things that are outside of our control. And then we are miserable. God, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. This means that I will accept it like I accept the weather, and change how I respond in ways that work for me. With the weather we add or take off layers, add or take away heat, we control the things we can control. In general, what we have control over is how we respond. We have the choice to feed in to the Facebook trolls. We have the choice to try to force others to change their opinions. Accepting the things we cannot change means tolerating the distress of the things we wish we could, but can’t. It is painful when others actions, choices or beliefs go directly against out own. It is difficult when the world seems to conspire against us and there is little we can do. Our choice is to tolerate the distress or to engage in a futile struggle that will only cause us more pain.
The next step, believe it or not, can be even more difficult. The next step is to change the things we can. The thing we can change is ourselves, the things we take on, the things we do, and how we think. When you start to think that is the easier task, look at the change you need to make to do the above. You have control over what you attempt to control. Letting go of the things that we have no control over is difficult, and requires great effort on your part. If I want to lose weight I may not have control over my genetics. I do have control over how much I exercise and the food I put in my body. If I want to change how someone sees me, I can’t argue them in to a different view point but I can behave in the way I want to be viewed as.
The final step is understanding the difference. What can I control, and what can’t I? This is the part where we are asking for help to find the difference. I don’t have a magic trick to help you know the difference. Sometimes I struggle as well. I hold on to the prayer. I look to see what I can do, what I have control over, and then I decide if I am going to do it. For example, I have no control over Syria, or people’s beliefs about the refugees. I do have control over whether or not I donate to agencies that help refugees, or even volunteer to help refugees coming to the country. I could even volunteer my home to help. These are three things that take varying amounts of effort. These are things over which I have control, in a situation that I find heartbreaking, and over which I have none.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the strength to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Though the situation can be distressing, admitting that there is no control over a situation can be releasing. You only have the pressure of controlling you, the one thing you know you have control over.