|Serenity Prayer canvas print by Michael Keck: CLICK HERE|
You probably know the Serenity Prayer. Written by Reinhold Niebuhr in the 1930s, it has become especially popular in AA groups:
“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,Shall we say, then, that hope is about that courage to change the things we can? That feels like it’s starting to get at why hope is so important.
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”
The crucial part of the serenity prayer would seem to be the wisdom to tell the difference. So how would you rate yourself on your ability to tell the difference between the things you can change and those you can't?
Try this exercise: Get out your journal, or just grab a legal pad, and make a list of everything you can think of that you have neither fully accepted, nor are you actively, intentionally working to carry out a plan to change. List at least 10 things. If you get to 20, stop.
Now look over your list. Go down the 10-20 items, and mark each item with “A” or "C." "A" for "accept" -- meaning you can’t change this, so you’re going to work on accepting it. “C” for "change" -- meaning you think could change it, though it will perhaps take courage.
Do you suppose you have the wisdom to know the difference?
If you were to try this exercise, I think you would probably encounter some difficulty. You would probably begin to notice that the challenges in your lives don’t all fall exactly and neatly into one of these two categories: either needing the serenity to accept or needing the courage to change.
What if the thing that needs our courageous effort to change IS our own capacity to accept? Sometimes hope is about both changing and accepting at the same time.
For example: John Schneider, a trauma psychologist, works with people traumatized by sudden loss, or witnessing a catastrophe – people who saw the twin towers go down, for instance, and are deeply disturbed.
“Perhaps the most important dimension of witnessing [particular moments that jar and uproot],” writes Schneider, “is our ability to hold hope for another. . . . Sometimes people say, ‘I can’t imagine ever recovering from this’ or ‘Do you ever think it will be better?’ or ‘Can I make it?’ To say at such times that we do believe it can be better, though all evidence seems contrary at the moment, is an offer to ‘hold hope.’ Holding hope can be a spiritual covenant we enter with a person. . . . It may not be until later that people feel empowered enough to hold their own hope.”In the meantime, we carry -- sometimes we embody by a non-anxious presence --
“the belief that within each person, no matter how powerful the truth, given the resources and time provided to deal with that truth, we have the strength and potential to handle it.”Here we have a situation where the courage to change is the courage to change ourselves so that we can functionally adapt to the traumatic reality we’ve seen and cannot change. Courage to change and serenity to accept are not two different things but in fact the very same thing. The wisdom we need is not the wisdom to know the difference, but the wisdom to know there is no difference. Serenity to accept and courage to change come from the same place.
Now we’re getting somewhere.
Let us consider the possibility, in all things, of being oriented toward BOTH acceptance and change at the same time: serene and equanimous acceptance of, and embrace of, reality exactly as it is, while at the same time, transformative engagement with that reality. Those subjects who were told their colostomy was reversible felt more dissatisfaction because people don’t adapt well to situations they think are short-lived. It’s our tendency, when we think a change-we-regard-as-positive is coming to grow impatient for it. But a focus on embracing reality just as it is can help us adapt well to what we’ve got, whether we do or don’t think it’s permanent.
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This is part 2 of 4 of "Hope."
Next: Part 3
Previous: Part 1 (No Hope?)