God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to do the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
Acceptance is the key to the Serenity Prayer, commonly recited at Twelve Step addiction group meetings. If we can understand what this prayer means, then we can better understand what recovery from addiction and worry is about.
As humans, we have two basic strategies for handling any situation that disturbs us. One is to change the situation. For example, if we are short of a few bob, we can trim our latte or cream bun allowance or seek an increase in our weekly pay. If we are lonely, we can call a loved one. This is how we usually cope with our anguish and distress. We try to alter the world outside us. And in many cases, this is powerful and appropriate.
However, circumstances are sometimes beyond our power. A sudden, unpredicted expense might undercut out plans to save money. We can call a friend or a loved one to suppress our loneliness, but that person may not be home. Hoping we can control every event that comes our way is like hoping we can control the weather or how many goals Joe Canning will score for Galway Hurlers.
In such moments, we often forget we have a second option. We can change our response to the situation.
Viktor Frankl was prisoner Number 119.104 in a concentration camp in in WWII. He spent most of his time alone, laying tracks for railway lines. Most people assume he would have been miserable or gone insance, but, even in the concentration camp Frankl felt free. In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, he concluded that everything can be taken from us except our ability to choose our attitude in any given set of circumstances. Another name for this freedom is acceptance. And acceptance is the key to the Serenity Prayer.
Frankl discovered this second option while he was in the concentration camp. Escape was not feasible; he was powerless over his situation. So he responded by dwelling on thoughts that empowered him. More specifically, Frankl stayed alive to the beauty of nature. Even the Nazis could not take away sunsets. He imagined amusing incidents that could take place in the future, allowing him to laugh. And he remembered the people he loved. He wrote how a man who has nothing left in this world may still know bliss. If only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of the people and things he loved and in the good he did in his life.
I could be happy if…
Complete this sentence: ‘I could be happy if…’ Typical answers include the right job, the right relationship, a new car, a child, a house… All of these have to do with the first option: having the right circumstances. All are attempts to change the world outside our heads.
For example, addiction is something we are powerless over and recovery from addiction means looking for serenity elsewhere—in the world inside our heads. Recovery hinges on learning to dwell on beliefs, attitudes and thoughts that remain true no mater what happens to us. The most important thing to learn and to remember is that there is always another way of looking at anything.
The Serenity Prayer reminds us that we should change what we can, accept that which we cannot change and strive to know the difference. For people in recovery, for all of us, such knowledge is the heart of serenity. The Serenity Prayer offers us more than an insightful look back at our past. It provides us with a road map for our future.
Thought for the Week
As your thought for the week, pray for people you know who have an addiction or a worry in their lives, that they will say the Serenity Prayer and use it as a road map for their future and that they will or we will have the courage and wisdom to use that map in our future dealings with ourselves and with others.