Introduction: The most well known part of the serenity prayer is the first section. I think most people know this part and associate it with recovery groups, 12 step recovery groups to be specific, AA, NA, Celebrate Recovery etc. I believe it’s a theme and a guide for just about every situation in life, whether recovery related or not. I use it as a gauge for how I’m REALLY doing in my life. It is my guide for where I need to surrender, and where I need to take some specific action. There are times that call for either surrender and action as we see here.
‘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.’
If you want to read the full version of the Serenity Prayer, I posted it here:
I’m sorry to tell you, but we don’t have control over as much as we think we do: It is a short selection with a very deep meaning, and the application of this is not as easy as it reads on paper. There’s no short path to accepting the things I cannot change. It hurts. Think about it. How much time do we spend thinking about things that we absolutely have no control over. I don’t want to accept that I lack control. It doesn’t feel good. I think this is a societal and cultural difficulty. As an American, I think I can change just about anything. If I don’t like my job, I can get a new one. If I don’t like my house, I can get a new one. If I am having trouble in a relationship, I can work to try to change it, leave it, or find a new one. We, collectively, live in a world of opportunity in our country, and it’s tempting to feel like we have a lot of control and many options.
I will just worry if I give up control, how is that beneficial?: Why do I worry so much about things I have no control over? I was at a comedy show recently and the comic said, ‘Yeah, I finally worried about a problem so much that it went away.’ The whole room lit up with laughter, because we all knew it was true. No amount of worry ever solved any problem. Ever. I’m an expert at worry though. I want to protect the things in my physical world, and also my emotional, relational, and spiritual world too. I feel like somehow if I strategize just enough that I’ll be able to overcome my own problems. I will worry a problem forever.
Jason has commented that he notices that I can’t let things go until I understand them. This is true, and not necessarily a criticism, but I do know that down side of that is that I have spent a lot of my mental and emotional energy in life processing things every which way, in order to try to understand, and often times, that is not a fruitful endeavor.
If I can’t control it, how do I move to accept the things I can’t change? Surrender and acceptance is the way forward. It starts with an analysis of the situation, and for me that begins with prayer and talking with trusted friends and family. If I have an issue, I take my honest and full heart to people that know and love me. I also take that to God. I believe that He knows and understands, and what He requires of me is to lay it down before him. It’s step one, admitting there’s a problem. God doesn’t judge us for being human, He loves and accepts us. He made us, after all, and He knows we are complex beings with emotions and lives that have challenges, hurts, trauma, and feelings. God knows we can’t do this on our own. He doesn’t want us to do this on our own. Let’s be honest, we can’t do it on our own, because that goes back to the overthinking and controlling situations.
You’ve got to surrender. Completely. No take backs. The main issue that I have with this whole idea of surrender is that it hurts. It hurts so bad. Have you ever fully surrendered a problem? When I have, it’s painful. My pride gets in the way, and when I truly stop the fixing, controlling, and changing behaviors that I am so good at, it almost physically hurts. I have a lot of pride and it’s not easy for me to get to that place of surrender. It feels like the world will spin off its axis and that things will never be the same, and that I’m opening myself up to pain, hurt, and trials. It is true that things will never be the same, but it’s a good thing and for our benefit. It’s not usually a one time process, either. I end up having to surrender things over and over again, because I forget and pick it back up, after I’ve already chosen to give it up. I can’t be the only one who does this. I’m guessing this is a familiar theme.
When I think back on my life and the worst problems and challenges I have faced, I realize that there was very little that outwardly changed by me trying to fix things, except spinning myself in to confusion and upset. When I’ve laid it down, and offered myself fully in to surrender, and the beauty that is contained in that surrender, it is a suffering that I’ve needed to embrace. Through that suffering came refining of me as a person. I’ve grown exponentially in my life through times that I thought I couldn’t go on due to the pain I was experiencing at the time.
The humbling experience of embracing serenity is beautiful and necessary in order for me to become the person I am meant to be.
Let God and other trusted people in to your heart. We all need unconditional love and acceptance. Letting God in to my problems is to give Him access to my full heart. When I share with people I love and trust, that also gives them access to who I am. It allows me to be fully who I am, and to be unconditionally loved, even as an imperfect human. That feels good, to be unconditionally loved. I recommend it. If you haven’t experienced it, you need to. If you don’t have anyone in your life who unconditionally loves you, go to a recovery group. They will do it. I like Celebrate Recovery, but you have many options out there to find people to love and support you.
Sometimes we do have the responsibility to change. It’s not all about surrender. The serenity prayer does ask for us to have the courage to change the things we can. It’s not all about surrender. Sometimes I have to take action on things I CAN change. I usually only know the difference between something I can change and something I can’t change by submitting that to God through prayer and seeking wise counsel. If I hate a particular circumstance in my life, I can change that, most certainly. The flip side is, do I need to change it, or is there something I need to learn by staying in the situation and being refined because of it.
In my life, I will change things too quickly at times. I will leave a job or a relationship or somehow opt out in other ways and move on. It’s the path of least resistance for me at the time, but I have seen times where I have missed out on opportunity to grow through trials. There’s no easy answers, or a matrix that always points the way. That’s where a deep spiritual connection is important. This is where the wisdom to know the difference comes in. Sometimes we can have that wisdom on our own, but I know for me, I most definitely need God and other people to help me assess where I’m at. I need the feedback, but at some point, I own the decisions. Good, bad, and/or ugly.
Embrace the struggle of becoming a new person, and enjoy the benefits of letting go. Next is the piece about living my life. It’s up to me to stand on my own two feet and own my life and all my decisions (even ones that weren’t ‘good’ decisions or beneficial life choices) with the love of God and the support of those who love me. It’s up to me at that point to stay in surrender and to live my life the best way I know how. That will be messy, imperfect, and sometimes a big hardship, but it’s the only way I know how to live an authentic life.
I know that the best lessons I have learned in life have come from laying down my pride and embracing surrender. I believe this is a path that leads to a peaceful life and as a way to move through the challenges and struggles we all face. If this is helpful for you, feel free to take these principles with you. If not, I wrote it as a reminder for myself, so take what you want and leave the rest. I’ll be over here, remembering to surrender, daily, or minute by minute, because I forget these things easily.
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