NOTE: This post was originally published on my previous blog, The Healing Project.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
The passage above is called the Serenity Prayer. It is used frequently in Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step recovery programs. It is simple yet extremely powerful. I believe that if one fully embraces and lives in tune with the words of this prayer, he or she will live a much more peaceful and happy life.
I dedicate this week’s post to the discussion of the Serenity Prayer, as I feel it is integral to my healing project and the healing of all those who have things in their lives they wish weren’t “so.” That pretty much describes all of us, now doesn’t it?
Can We Save Another?
There is a person I care about who is engaging in very self-destructive behavior and who is greatly endangering her health by her actions. It is very difficult for me to see this person hurt herself the way she does, especially since she has experienced several periods of recovery that I’d hoped would be permanent.
Over the years, I’ve tried to help this person in a multitude of ways, and I continue to ruminate upon what I could do now to assist her in overcoming her internal demons. In truth, I vacillate between wracking my brain to determine how I can help her and being so angry at her that I feel like just leaving her to the demise she seems so hell-bent upon bringing about.
The Serenity Prayer in Action
In recent days, I’ve devoted a lot of time and energy to deciding what, if anything, I can do to help this person who is very dear to me. It was during this time that I was reminded of the Serenity Prayer. As I repeated the simple prayer internally, I was struck with a realization. This person and her self-destructive behavior fall under the category of “things I cannot change.”
Sadly, we cannot change other people; we can only change ourselves and our reactions to other people. Deep down, I know this and have known it for many years. However, I find it extremely difficult to accept the cold, hard truth that I do not have the power to change another human being. Yet, if I am to achieve the level of inner peace which I so intently seek, I must accept this reality.
The Wisdom to Know the Difference
The most powerful part of the Serenity Prayer is the last part – “the wisdom to know the difference.” As someone who has long been a “control freak,” I tend to think I have the power to change anything in my life that I do not like. This belief has led me to a great deal of pain and misery.
I’ve tried to “fix” a number of people over the years – friends, family members, significant others. Yet the truth is that there is only one person I can control or fix, and that’s myself. While it’s true that we can influence others, they have to change themselves; we cannot do it for them.
Serenity and Courage
In my current situation, now that I have the wisdom to know that I cannot change this other person, I must turn to the other two parts of the Serenity Prayer. I must seek and pray for the serenity to accept that I cannot change another, and I must have the courage to change the way in which I interact with this person. I must stop trying to change her and do my best to love her as she is.
Yes, I feel sad that she hurts herself the way she does, but in spite of that sad truth, she has many wonderful qualities that I can love and appreciate. I must adopt a “glass half-full” attitude and appreciate what’s right instead of lamenting upon what’s wrong. I must release my anger toward this person for her behavior and at myself for not being able to help her.
The Power of the Human Spirit
If this person decides to change, I will be there for her as I have been in the past. I will think positively and believe in her capacity to change, as I always have. I genuinely do believe in the power of the human spirit and the capacity for people to change at any phase of life. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be writing this blog. I would have given up on myself a long time ago, because God knows I have stumbled and struggled with the same issues many times over the years. Yet I have not given up, and I will never give up, as long as there is breath in my body.
Just as I have not given up on myself, I will not give up on my self-destructive loved one. I may have to distance myself from her at times, as it is difficult to see someone you love hurt themselves, but I won’t lose hope that she can and will change.
Still Seeking Serenity…
I do not yet fully have the serenity to accept that I cannot change others who are harming themselves. Even as I write this, I find myself wondering if maybe this thing or that thing might help steer the person I mentioned onto a more life-affirming course. But I am on my own path of healing, and part of my healing involves letting go of believing I can mold others to my will.
I need to focus on myself and my own path and heal the things in my own life that are off balance. I can be an inspiration and an example for others, but I cannot make them change. I am reminded of a line from the transformational passage by Marianne Williamson, “My Deepest Fear…” (the full passage may be read here):
As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Hope and Healing
A large part of my blogging about my healing project is that I hope to help others to heal their lives as I heal mine. I hope that the concepts I write about and the insights I reveal will produce resonance in my readers and help them on their own journeys. It has been liberating for me, a generally private person, to share intimate thoughts with the world (I say the world because you never know who will find you on the Internet). Letting go of my intense worries of the scrutiny of others has helped me to come more into my own as a person and embrace the specialness of who I am.
I am sad, but I remain hopeful. I move forward with courage to continue my healing project and to allow others to be on the paths of their choosing, whether positive or negative. I know I cannot chart the course for anyone besides myself, so I will continue to navigate my own “vessel” and let others do the same. As I do so, I continue to pray for serenity, courage, and wisdom… each and every day.