“…grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…
courage to change the things I can…”
- Reinhold Niebuhr
There are some things we can change and other things we can’t. If we could change all things, we would be omnipotent. The truth is that we cannot change most things.
Every day the news tends to present many things we are powerless over. We cannot control taxes, inflation, weather, the war in Ukraine, or an uptick in crime. Some of my clients have stopped watching the news because it is so disturbing. I can appreciate this. The news generally presents darkness without hope about things we can’t change.
Unfortunately, religion can often feed the hopelessness narrative:
· We can’t do anything to save ourselves
· We need a higher power
· We are helpless without something more powerful
· We are spiritually and morally blind
· Even our best efforts are useless
But what is reality? Do we have power today? Measurable, quantifiable strength to change? Yes. We can change some things. The challenge is in discerning what we can and should change.
When discerning our power, there are two extremes to avoid:
1. There are times we feel weak when we shouldn’t. There are times we listen to warning signals when we shouldn’t: feeling distress or fear when no danger exists.
2. There are times we feel strong when we shouldn’t. There are times we ignore warning signals inappropriately: pushing too hard at work or at the gym, resulting in sickness or injury.
With these extremes in mind, it seems best to err on the side of confidence. We should strive vigorously, hopefully, with a winning spirit. This will generally orient us a healthier direction than a predisposition of doubt and fear. Nevertheless, we need to be careful to discern the immoveable objects in our path so as to not waste our energy on things we cannot change.
I have written previously of my Statements of Affirmation:
1. I am incredibly strong
2. I am a powerful overcomer
3. I am like a mountain standing against any storm
These are not false pretenses. I have plenty of evidence that these things are true. And yet, a traumatic childhood taunts me otherwise. This past haunts my adult years, sometimes beckoning me toward despair when I should know better. I am no longer an eight-year-old, but sometimes I have to work to remember this.
However, I can misuse my three Statements of Affirmation. There are times it is appropriate to feel weak and vulnerable. This is human. I have always felt that it is our failures and suffering that brings us together more than our successes. Not everyone wins, but everybody loses at some point. We all suffer or will suffer great loss. This is real.
My point in this paradox is to make a priority of discovering who we are and what we can change. We need to flex our muscle and mind by trying new things, and stretching beyond flawed self-limiters. Without effort and failure, we can’t know our boundaries.
Life requires that we neither indulge the fragility of overconfident pretense nor irresponsible cowardice. Reach farther.