Finding the Wisdom to Know the Difference

If you’ve grown up around Catholicism like I have, you probably know the Serenity Prayer. For those of you who don’t…

“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”

You see it on canvases, plaques, and Facebook posts pretty consistently, and has been used by groups like Alcoholics Anonymous for years since the prayer’s creation in the 1930s. However, you might not know that the above section isn’t the entire prayer. It continues…

“Living one day at a time;

Enjoying one moment at a time,

Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;

Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is,

Not as I would have it;

Trusting that He will make all things right

If I surrender to His Will;

That I may be reasonably happy in this life

And supremely happy with Him forever in the next.”

While I enjoy the first half of the prayer, I was surprised that I had never heard the prayer in full. The messages of living one day at a time and accepting hardships are something that I think are necessary to live out the first half of the prayer. And, I think these five lessons can get us even closer to finding the wisdom to know the difference between the things we cannot change, and the things we can.

Acceptance is not idleness or giving up.

Acceptance, in this context, seems like a passive word. It seems like we have to simply accept the things we cannot change and give up on the problem, and since there is nothing we can do, we have to stand still and wait for the next problem. However, acceptance doesn’t mean becoming idle and giving up on the problems you face. It doesn’t mean that you become apathetic towards issues you feel passionate about. To me, acceptance in this prayer is something that can bring you peace—acceptance helps you realize that there are some things you cannot change alone, so for your own wellbeing you must learn to find the positives in the situation. Through this acceptance, you can find others in a similar place and can lean on them for support and comfort. And, while finding people that you feel you cannot change for the better might seem even more frustrating than finding issues you cannot change, it leads you to the next step.

Possess the courage to change yourself.

We know that no one is perfect but recognizing our own flaws and mistakes and owning up to them is still a difficult thing to do. But why? If we all experience failure, why do we feel pressure to hide our failures from others? We alone cannot change the world, but we alone have the power to change ourselves. The only question is whether we have the courage to do it. Because, by changing ourselves and being happy with who we become, we will find that we can change the world.

 

Realize that not all hardship is bad.

Everyone experiences hardships at one point or another during their lifetime. And while these are never easy, they often allow us to grow into stronger, more capable people. James 1:2-4 tells us to accept that the struggles we have experienced have shaped us into the people we are today—people who are kind, caring, understanding, and strong. And, in many cases, the difficult things we have been through can allow us to connect with those who are going through the same things and allow us to be a source of light in the darkness.

 

Surrender requires strength.

Where you go, what you do, and who you want to be are things you want to be able to have full control over, right? It’s easy to act like we know exactly what we need to do and don’t need help from anyone else, but this is rarely the case. When we are unsure of what to do or where to go, we must trust that there is something bigger than us than can give us the assistance we need to keep moving forward. Whether it’s following advice from friends, from your parents, or even from God, surrendering to a plan that isn’t yours is a very scary thing, and requires a great amount of strength and courage. It’s not that you can’t do it on your own—it’s that you are strong enough to recognize that you need help and brave enough to ask for it.

 

Happiness is attainable—now and in the future.

You are the only person responsible for your own happiness, and you have the courage to remove anything from your life that detracts from your ability to feel happy and comfortable. Respect yourself enough to walk away from anything that no longer serves you, helps you grow, or makes you happy. Live one day at a time, one moment after the next, trusting that the moments you are experiencing will help you grow into the person you were meant to be. Accept what you cannot change, change what you can, and you will continue to grow in the wisdom you need to know the difference.