Accepting what we cannot change

Most of us are familiar with the Prayer of Serenity: ‘Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.’

Like many aphorisms it sounds simple, I mean to pray for courage to change the things that can be changed is a no-brainer. But to pray for the serenity to accept the things we cannot change can be a tall order.

For example, a life-changing illness or accident or the ending of the marriage of a family friend, it’s heartbreaking, but there’s nothing we can do about it, we can’t change it, and all the antagonism in the world solves nothing.

I have a close relative who within a month was diagnosed with breast cancer, had a mastectomy and then was told she had early stage dementia.

Adam Harbinson.

There is nothing she can do to change things, but can she accept it?

Well, without sounding uncaring one could say, what is the alternative?

However, to accept something we cannot change does not mean that we welcome it, how could we?

No, what I’m suggesting is that to accept it, as my close relative appears to be doing, means that we don’t rage and fume, ‘Why me?’

And then we go about blaming everybody and anybody. The inescapable fact is that life isn’t fair; good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people.

When good things happen to good people they say, ‘God is good,’ I usually nod and add, ‘Yes, all the time.’ Isn’t that so, for wasn’t it Jesus who said, ‘He gives sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust.’ That’s how it is, but it’s not generally understood.

When my wife died a few weeks before her 49th birthday it seemed that half the world was praying for her recovery and so I asked every church leader I knew why this should be. I can tell you, I got some bizarre answers, like; you didn’t pray hard enough, there’s a secret sin in your life, and then the really silly ones, ‘God picks the best fruit first’, until I spoke to an old Elim pastor, who gave me the only answer there is. He said, ‘I don’t know.’

So accepting the things we can’t change can be difficult, if it was easy we wouldn’t have to pray for serenity.

But bitterness, blaming and anger help no one.