God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the thing I am
And Wisdom to know the difference.
I first learned that prayer – those words as a teenager. I’ve repeated them and prayed them frequently since that time. But, they meant something quite different to me then than they do now.
At the time, my mother had found us support — an AlaTeen group. That’s for children/teenagers living with an alcoholic parent. Understandably, my comprehension of that prayer was aimed at the external: I couldn’t change my father, I really couldn’t change where I lived. I understood that what I could work with was my external reactions to the situation. Try not to scream and cry, try to remain calm and try to find a way out. And Wisdom – that was just knowing where to draw the line.
Fortunately I went away to college. I look at students today in amazement. So many go home more weekends than not. “Helicopter parents” who hover over them are not uncommon. When I left, my mother and I think grandmother drove me down, helped me move into my dorm room, and I reluctantly got myself home for Thanksgiving break. I made a break for it.
But the world was a confusing place. I did learn that there was a layer beneath that I could work with (here goes the first layer of the onion skin peeling off.) I discovered the Catholic Student Center — I began to make a break with my protestant, Calvinist, background. One of the scariest decisions I realized I would be making was that I was going to join the Roman Catholic Church. Some folk may not understand the radical nature of that decision in my life. I can still return to the spot where I was sitting, on a small hill, next to a fig tree (isn’t God poetic?) when it occurred to me that I was really going to do this. I recall thinking, like Moses, “not me God, take Aaron!” because it was such a tremendous step for me. A fundamental type of change that I could make – not just in how I reacted to someone else, but an internal change in the way I saw the world.
Courage to change is no sweet little prayer. Courage to change is a powerful, life changing request. Courage to change means really being open to what can be changed and what should be changed. Courage to change means facing your demons, your fears, your addictions, yourself. Courage to change means having to walk into the unknown into a way of being that has been heretofore hidden from your sight. Courage to change implies willingness to die to old ways. Courage to change means admitting that there are things that need to be changed.
Sometimes I’m ready for that prayer. Sometimes I say the words but I don’t mean them. Sometimes, I’m just too tired to even think about it. Often it is just easier to pretend that something can’t be changed, or maybe just doesn’t need to be changed. That’s when the Wisdom piece comes into play.
Wisdom – I see her as that stirring that shows me, often gently, that there are somethings that you just have to accept. I’m really not going to change how tall I am, the real color of my eyes or my hair, or the past. Or even my preference for introverted, thinking approaches to life. I’m not going to change the fact that I was a bottle baby and not a breast-fed one. I’m not going to change events like falling off of the porch into the forsythia bush (which still invokes terror 50 years later) or listening to my sister scream in the dentist’s office after she fell and broke off her two front teeth (I was not quite 4, she was about 18 months old). I’ve learned that the emotions these things invoke are signs and can tell me where change is needed.
And so, I pray these words cautiously. Very cautiously. Precisely because the answer to that prayer can be so earthshaking.