I’ve been thinking a lot about the first part of The Serenity Prayer these days. You know, the part that goes, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”
It often seems like I live my life by another prayer, one that goes something like, “God, please bless my attempts to control the things I cannot change.”
I try to control other people’s opinions of me, to make them like me and be impressed by me. I urge and persuade and manipulate to try to make people act the way I want them to. I anxiously rush around, resenting my limits, trying to micromanage situations that I really can’t change.
What would it be like to serenely accept the things I cannot change? How can I learn to let go?
1) Get Clear About What You Can’t Change
If we’re trying to accept things we can’t change, then we first need to clarify what we can’t change. What are those things that we can’t control, no matter how hard we try? What are things we can’t change?
- Most things about other people. We can’t make other people change. We can’t make them change their decisions, their feelings, their opinions, their habits, their personality, or their preferences. We might be able to influence them, to a greater or lesser degree, but most aspects of other people fall into the “can’t change” category.
- The past. We can’t change the past. No matter how much we regret our past choices, no matter how bitter we feel about past hurts, no matter how painful our past losses, we can’t change them.
- Some things about ourselves. While there are things about ourselves we can change, other aspects of ourselves are just the way we were born. There are many things we can’t change about our looks, our health, our personality and our aptitudes.
- Some circumstances. In any given situation, there are some things we can’t change. We can’t change big things like natural disasters, wars, or the economy. We can’t change small things, like a flat tire on the way to work, how much homework our kids are assigned, or the cost of a movie ticket.
- The fact that we have limits. Often the hardest things to accept are our own limits. We want to see it all, to do it all, to achieve our dreams. My to do list for the day often has more items than any one person could possibly accomplish in a single day. Why do I expect that of myself? Because I have a hard time accepting my own limits.
2) Examine the Reasons You Try to Control
Why do we constantly try to control things that we can’t? Why is letting go so difficult?
We try to control because letting go is terrifying. We are afraid of feeling powerless. We don’t want to be a victim.
We try to control because we think that if we can just make this other person change, or if we can just somehow make ourselves perfect, then our problems will be solved. We’ll finally be happy, everyone will love us, we’ll have it made.
We try to control our loved ones because somehow we bought into the belief that love means having an agenda for someone else’s life. I want you to change because I care about you. I nag you because I love you.
We try to control our kids because when they were young they needed us to manage their lives, and as they’ve grown, we haven’t adjusted. Maybe we’re afraid that if they don’t need us to manage their lives, then we won’t have a place in their lives.
We try to control in order to get our own needs met. If I can just make people like me, if I’m good enough or nice enough, then I’ll feel loved. If I accomplish my impossible to do list, then I’ll feel successful.
We try to control because we’re driven by anxiety. We are afraid of what we can’t control. We constantly expect disaster, and we micromanage to try to stave it off.
We try to control because letting go feels like giving up. We don’t want to accept what we cannot change. We fear that letting go means we might never get what we want, and then we would have to grieve.
We try to control because deep down it’s hard to believe that God really cares, that he’s holding us in his hands. We think somehow it’s all up to us.
Benefits of Letting Go
Letting go is difficult, but as we do it, we experience:
- less anxiety
- lighter burdens
- more energy to focus on the things we can change
- increased trust in God
- greater maturity
My next blog post will give more thoughts on learning to let go.
Question: What do you think? How is it hard for you to let go? What helps you to accept things you can’t change? You can leave a comment by clicking here.