Arizona Abby always used to be upset with the way I quoted the serenity prayer. Her version was classic.
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.
I start with power to change what I can, serenity to accept and then wisdom.
Reinhold Niebuhr was a nice theologian who wrote a nice prayer. As a somewhat queerer entity, I’m going to suggest a slightly different incantation.
God, help me surrender to what I cannot change,
help me battle to change what I can
and keep me clear enough to know the difference.
The real challenge in the prayer isn’t having serenity, having courage or strength, rather it is being willing to surrender and being willing to fight.
We each heal in our own time and in our own way. In that process, the surrender demanded and the battle required is not with some outside force, some external challenge, rather we have to learn how to embrace our nature and how to fight our own fears and pain.
The serenity prayer guides us in that biggest of battles any human ever faces, the battle only they can fight, the grace only they can give, the battle that rages inside.
The struggle with the dragon inside of us, the monster fed with old horrors, broken expectations, unhealed wounds and mounds of hopeful rationalizations, the ego that resists the discomfort required to get over our own damnselves and get clear, is the struggle everyone wishes that they could delegate to another.
We want our mommy to protect us, want her to banish the foes and challenges, want her to do the grown up stuff that we know comes hard to us and that we cannot accept came also very hard to her. We squeal and whine, wanting the world to change around us, the rules shifting to eliminate a struggle that is easy to call unfair.
Like any struggle, winning that struggle inside requires focus and discipline, keeping our eye on long term benefits over the ease of short term comfort. It demands that we not get distracted by our own impulses, that we do the hard shit work that clears the way for future benefits.
We need to pick our battles, serenely surrendering those that take us away from the centre and committing our strength and courage to those which can make a real difference in our choices, our life and our happiness. Keeping goodness in mind, we must defeat the ego and indulgent inside of us, the part who craves the lackadaisical life of a slacker.
It may be easy to always feel the need of another mommy, someone who we want to believe can save us from the hard work of owning our own life, but in the end, no one can do the work to reshape your choices by reshaping your priorities and the way that you see the world.
Healers help not by doing the healing, but only by setting the ground so those needing healing have the courage and serenity, the strength and the surrender, to enter their own inner battles.
Fighting your mommy in an effort to have her change the rules, trying to impose the way you wish the world was over the way that it really is, will never achieve any purpose. Woe has always been part of the human condition and always will be, though the “woe is me” impulse that hastens self pity will always be a dead end when compared to woe for the people around us who need our strength, our gifts and our help.
Nobody has the energy, focus, time and need to change everything. You cannot win them all, so you have to choose where you put your limited and precious efforts.
Not struggling with what is important, though, for you and for the people you love and are allied with, is to avoid the work that changes human lives — changes your life — for the better.
The call to surrender, the call to battle and the requirement for smarts to know which is required in any given circumstance is a challenge, but in many ways it is the defining challenge of a human life. If we do not engage this call, we just carry on old habits, allowing our own unhealed and needy places to drive our choices and to define our life.
The gift of a lifetime is becoming who you are. That gift is gained by letting go of who you are not and working to strengthen who you are, surrendering to the essential and battling with the ephemeral.
No matter how much you want someone else to fight that battle, or even to give you permission to not have to fight it, the fight within you for better, for clearer, for more righteous, for more enlightened is a fight that only you can make.
Trying to shift that responsibility only puts heavy demands on others around you while not changing your own responsibility to manage your own fears, pain and impulses. You have to be able to talk yourself off the ledge by focusing on what is important over what is uncomfortable.
Call it strength or courage, serenity or surrender, wisdom or enlightenment, the battle for your own soul is at the heart of the human struggle. Only you can have the grace, focus and discipline to change your vision, your choices, and the essential happiness and effectiveness of your own life.