LORD GIVE 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
by Helene Torres
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Lord, give 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’ve been a Christian for more than a year and haven’t heard this prayer before, then I ask incredulity; “Where have you been?” It’s everywhere! We print it on postcards, bookmark, key-rings, photo-frames. I’ve yet to see it appear in chocolate form, but I’m sure that sort of evangelism will have its day. The words were first spoken in church, by an American theologian – Reinhold Niebuhr (don’t ask me to pronounce that!) After the service, a friend came up to him and requested a copy. His friend sent the prayer out with his Christmas cards that year. Since then it has been taken up by Alcoholic’s Anonymous and used on a whole range of different occasions.
I carried this prayer around in my luminous blue (with black spots) furry wallet for ages, glancing at it occasionally, while getting out my debit card to buy that espresso flavoured lip balm that, of course, I couldn’t live without. The words are powerful and challenging, but do I actually mean them?
My friend’s response to the first line “Lord, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” Was…hang on a minute. Anything can be changed through faith and prayer. I don’t actually agree with her. God is omnipotent, nothing is beyond him and I do believe that He wants what’s best for us. However, prayer isn’t designed to change the mind of God. It changes us – our hearts, our minds. If God allowed me everything I prayed for, then I’d be a top designer, with a husband who makes me laugh and was the image of Lukas from E.R. I’d hold shares in Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and the colour “ yellow” would have been banned by the clothing industry. God, thank goodness, doesn’t answer every prayer. So, I ask; “Lord, give me the serenity to accept the things You don’t want changed!”
I have been called “determined,” “pig-headed,” “single minded,” “tenacious” and quite a few other word, which would come up in the Thesaurus under “stubborn.” I admit it. All of these adjectives apply to me at times. This can be a positive attribute as it means that I don’t go down at the first hurdle. However when nothing can change the thing that I’m fighting against, it’s wasting energy. I have a problem with “acception.” Why? Because I see it, as akin to giving up and giving up isn’t something I do. I have battled for years against the problems associated with my Metabolic Disease, unable to accept that they can’t be changed. I have reached some degree of acception now as long as it’s only me who is inconvenienced. As soon as I am forced to rely on someone else, my response is to revert to my old dictum “It’s not fair.”
I am still learning to take the conditions off and just worship. It’s hard to carry on worshiping when the thing, that you most fear is just around corner. I used to have a severe phobia of needles, (This wasn’t just fainting, though I can’t say I’ve never taken that procrastination technique. This was full blown, hyperventilating, tears, out of control phobia.) so imagine my delight, when I was put on regular intravenous medication. I recall pleading with God into my late teens, “Lord, anything but that!” The Lord allowed me to mature, both in years and more importantly in faith before testing me. I have now survived the months of it holding the Lord’s hand and with a coat over my head. If we write in clauses to our worship – “I will only worship you, if you give me this…””…don’t let this happen” then it defeats the element of trust. Trust that the Lord has a plan and purpose for our lives and ultimately knows what’s best for us. Acception takes humility and is another way of saying surrender and when you surrender your whole being to the Living God you experience such release, such peace.
What’s the next line? Arrh yes. “The courage to change the things I can.” With this plea, I immediately think of people who take a stand against the injustice in this world. In “To Kill a Mocking Bird” Atticus Finch goes against the grain, standing up for the Negro in court within a very racist society. Atticus knows that he has little to no chance of winning this case. He knows, he will be undermined and his decision will affect his family, but regardless he makes the decision to fight the prejudice. It doesn’t take bravery to do something, when everyone agrees with you.
I have always believed that to be regarded as “brave” or “courageous” fear should come into the equation. I have often found that fear, instigates a change in someone or some situation. Fear of parental retribution teaches us, from an early age, not to steal, lie or try to fly down the stairs. As adults, fear can still initiate a transformation. A sudden lifestyle shift - a healthier diet, more exercise e.t.c. can be started by a diagnoses of high blood pressure or simply a fear of becoming overweight. When something scares you, you automatically wish it to be rid of it. God takes our fears – the things we are least proud of, the things that humiliate us again and again, and uses us in those situations. Why? Because when were in absolute terror we depend on him. He used Moses to speak to the Egyptians and set the Israelites free. Moses wouldn’t have been my chosen candidate for this position. He’d killed an Egyptian was frightened of revenge and Moses had a speech impediment which would have led to a fear of embarrassment and being misunderstood.
Now my attitude to changes in my life is that I tend to accept them if my one proviso has been met – “that I’m the one who’s made the decision to change.” I like to change my appearance every so often and I’m not one of these people who go around asking friends and family “Do you think I ought to get my haircut?” I just do it. If someone or some circumstance tries to force me to change, then my response is to aim to do the exact opposite. Mum is and always has been, concerned about my diet. She doesn’t think I eat enough and she’s probably right, but ordering me to eat, even when I’m hungry, doesn’t work.
This is also my automatic attitude when I feel my control of situations slipping and the result taken out of my hands. I hang on to normality for dear life, when God wants me to take courage in both hands and change. I feel his gentle voice chiding “There is a better thing for you around the corner…honest.” It takes faith, which isn’t just about serenity and peace, it is also courage and strength. Change, in itself, scares me – going to unfamiliar places – I could AND DO get lost. Meeting new people – they don’t know me, don’t understand me. I find it far safer to live in the cocoon, talk only to the people who are already my friends, go to the same places every week. Is this what God wants? God wants us to branch out, become friendly with other people who need us.
Some people find change exhilarating. They immigrate to different countries, change jobs every now and then and take on exciting challenges. I understand this; people want to experience all aspects of life. They get bored or need to be motivated. I am not suggesting that we should live a life of fluxuating friendships, never getting to know anyone well enough to have a relationship with them. Loving our friends and families should be our primary goal as that in itself allows others to view the difference within us as Christians. In order to show love, we must invest time and energy. Time is a lacking commodity, by giving up our time, we are giving something we will never get back.
“The wisdom to know the difference.” I have always wanted to be regarded as wise, long before I had any inkling about how to gain true wisdom. Wisdom to know when to say something and when to keep silent. Wisdom allows us to know what to do in situations where ordinarily people don’t have a clue. I studied Philosophy, believing that asking intellectual questions like “Who am I?” and being able to spout off scholarly arguments as if they were my own, was wisdom. It’s not! Wisdom only comes from one source and one source only – God. Since knowing that I have prayed for “wisdom” more than any other gift of the Holy Spirit. We can gain wisdom through the reading of his word, prayer and fellowship with other Christians.
When praying for wisdom, I was asking to be taught and the finest teachers know that pupils learn best through experiencing things for themselves. I was also opening up an opportunity to be asked to use the wisdom, I had been praying for, which like with any topic involved a test. If God used written exams (– preferably the multi-choice or true and false variety, where the answer is not subjective) then I’d get A*s regularly. Anyone can learn facts if they put in the time – I had a friend, who’s party piece, when drunk was to quote; “the square of the hypotenuse is equal the sum of the opposite two sides.” Ask her to put this mathematic equation into practise and she couldn’t do it drunk or sober. It had gone into her head, but she didn’t understand it and therefore wouldn’t have passed a geometry exam. This is why God tends to use alternative tests. He has a way of placing people in our paths – infuriating, imperfect people and who have the ability to get right up our noses. People who appear to eat more chocolate that we do, but are still stick thin. People who leave a permanent trail of cotton and beads wherever they go. People who almost give themselves asthma attacks by breathing in while eating icing sugar straight from the packet. People who drop their house keys down the drain. People like me, with as many, though different faults as I have and then God asks us to love them. Many times, I have found myself praying only too often for a change in others, when it’s really my own attitude that needs changing. This is the sort of situation where this prayer comes in, we’ve got to accept others – faults and all, and make a change in ourselves.
As the prayer states we have to hold the ability to determine what’s able to be changed and when we are battling against something as impossible as doing alchemy or trying to get me out the door by 5:30 in the morning. Some things you shouldn’t endeavour to change, like mobile phone numbers – it confuses people for months to come. Nah. What I’m really thinking of is your talents. Most people’s talents are contained within certain areas. Yes, we all knew the girl at school, who was pretty, popular and could do…well…everything. However the majority of us, have certain talents which we can use or exploit as we see fit. I don’t believe we should stay solely within the realms of our talents. Just because you are not gifted in the kitchen and once tried to make hot chocolate with pancake batter, doesn’t mean you should never make a cup of tea. Saying that to keep on wishing and trying for something that is outside of your personal calling is wrong. God gifted us all in different areas and much as I might desire musical ability, I should be content with using my creativity in other pursuits. He determines our lot and we should be thankful for what we have, instead of suffering waves of jealousy.
Whatever the situation we always have a choice. It may not be the choice we want, but the alternative is there. It’s in our attitude, how we respond. Do we scream and shout at the injustices of life, the universe and everything? Or we can choose to be thankful and see the beauty that lies at the bottom of the worst circumstance. Do we use our problems as excuses for not doing God’s work or just a small hindrance along the way? It’s an opportunity to influence people by your attitude, rather than aiming to dazzle and amaze people at a distance with your skills.
Paul saw his poor health as a gift to keep him humble and make it more astonishing that God can use him. God uses ordinary human beings, for extra-ordinary things, throughout the Bible and it’s still going on today. He uses people like Joni Earinson Tara who suffered a diving accident and is paralysed from the shoulders down, singing, preaching, painting and generally blessing people around her. When you see things like this, you begin to conceive; “Hey, God could even use me!”
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This article is well written and truly speaks the heart of someone who is trying to understand the ways of God. Scripture tells us that we cannot fathom Him or His ways because His ways are not our ways. Louis Giglo has an awesome series on CD/DVD that addresses many of the issues you brought up. It might encourage you to see them. You don't have a corner on disliking change or being stubborn. Many of us have to admit we are in the same boat! Take heart and be courageous! God often gets the glory when we are sick or suffering. People look at us and see the witness of God when, even in the worst times, we still praise Him! Louie Giglo's movies actually say that we are a megaphone for God when we praise Him during out bleak circumstances. Also, God can use our experiences in suffering to equip us to minister to others who are going through similar difficult trials. He gives us more compassion and understanding, so we know how to better encourage others. Also, God says He will meet our needs--not all our wants. I also thank God for not answering the prayers that I say when the answer will hurt me. God knows all things, and thankfully He protects me--even from myself! Keep on writing. I think article was awesome. It truly speaks about circumstances we all, in our humanity, wrestle with. You article causes us to think about the ways of God.