Lord, 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 can't even begin to count how many times I heard that prayer, thought about it, and said it in a big circle of people in dingy rooms full of styrofoam coffee cups, cigarette smoke, and pain. And yet, until just a moment ago in my comfortable kitchen, talking to my husband, I really never once focused on what I now think is the true meaning of those words.
You see, most people think that prayer tells you to get determined and change yourself for the better and to accept "how stuff is" with grace.
We can't change the past. That's an easy one--water under the bridge, spilled milk, and all that. So, as they tell you in the programs, just "Let go and let God." That's a great relief to people whose past doesn't really flatter them too much, and it's pretty welcome to grab onto that one.
Much more difficult to appreciate is that we can't change the future. We love to believe that we can change the future. If we plan and plot, worry and manipulate, diet and exercise, make everyone get spied on and patted down and disarmed, try to make everyone think and act the same, we can ensure that we have the outcome we want--a long and happy life, good health, the love of people, and most likely, a pretty boring time of things. That's what we want: peaceful, quiet, "happy," and bland.
When you start really thinking about it, though, you quickly discover that we can't change the future because there are just too many variables going into it that we have no input in--other people's behavior, unseen consequences that we can't know about, "the facts" being different than we currently suppose they are, and on and on.
So, the "things I cannot change" pretty well encompasses everything past and future, doesn't it? It leaves one thing, and one thing only. The very next thing that I do.
Not the next thing that someone else does: that's up to them. I can have my life all planned out, from what we're having for dinner to where we'll live in retirement, and my spouse could walk in and say, "Honey, I'm sorry, but I'm not happy and I'm leaving. Now."
Not the thing I do after the next thing, because something else can intervene, and the whole landscape changes. I can be dressed and ready to go somewhere, with the whole day written out for myself, and if I walk out the door to find my car doesn't start, the whole plan evaporates.
And so that leaves Just One Thing. The only thing. The one very next thing that I do, think, or say. From inside the little universe that is "me," that and that alone is "reality." And that should be the one thing that we all pay the most attention to. Oddly enough, it seems to be the one thing most of us pay the least attention to.
Yikes. I've got some work to do.