“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.”
No, this simple prayer was not written by St. Francis of Assisi in the 14th century, as is often thought, but rather by an American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, in the 1930s. It promises serenity once we have clarified for ourselves two things: a) what about our lives we are able to modify, revise, address, tweak, adapt, or change, and b) what about our lives will remain unmovable, at least at this time, at least by us.
For many, this simple prayer calls us to take action, to move beyond complacency and be about the change we long to have happen but don’t see anyone bringing about; it means getting out of our comfort zone and stepping up with our voices, our hands, our feet, and usually our hearts.
For others, this prayer reminds us that trying to change some things in our lives is futile, usually circumstances beyond our control. The weather, our genetic makeup, and how others are going to treat us fit easily into this category. Other factors maybe not so easily. Obviously, what one person can change another may not be able to and vice versa.
As difficult as both of these can be, maybe the most challenging work of serenity is the first task: discerning which is which. Our most common mistake is confusing what we can and cannot change.
For years, I thought making changes in big systems was futile. Then I got involved in the PTSA at Neelsville Middle School and was told they needed a new $60 million building. Advocating for such a project seemed daunting – what difference could one person actually make? But some were writing letters, others were showing up at Board of Education hearings, still others were contacting County Council members. I got involved. I rallied volunteers. I made speeches. I sent out updates. Did it make a difference? Well, we’ll see, but to date a brand new three-story school facility is scheduled to open September 2024. Was it because of any one person? Of course not. There were many players, many factors, many moving parts. And for all I know the hand of God. But I’d like to think my small piece was a part of the whole.
Most of what you’ll find on social media are recantations of society’s lack of serenity, that is, overwhelming confirmation that we are unwilling to accept what we cannot change, unwilling to change what we can, and loathe to take the time to discern which is which lest we be confronted with resolutions too painful to live out.
It takes maturity, humility, and lots of patience to do the work of serenity in our lives. It can involve giving up long-standing hopes, confronting long-standing fears, or correcting long-standing myths. As someone once said, “Peace is a beautiful thing; but getting there can be horrific.” So it is with serenity. Hard work. But worth it.
Uvalde. What can I change? What can I not change? Which is which? Discern today.