The Wisdom to Know the Difference


The title of this post is lifted from the beloved Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr and for me, is the precursor to surrender.

The lines preceding this one are clear-cut in their instruction . . . accept the things I cannot changechange the things I can . . . but the wisdom line, well, it’s a little bit murky for me.

A Serenity Prayer story

The last two months have been challenging following the loss of my job.  I know many of you can relate, especially those of you who are passionate about your work.  When you have a dream career and your job suddenly becomes non-existent, a piece of you sort of dies.

The job is a great part of you are as a person.  It’s a natural fit in your life .  And then one day, in a matter of 30 minutes, who you are, maybe even what you are, vanishes.

Or at least it feels that way for a while.

Over the course of the next days and weeks, you work through it, maybe even uncover a sense of unexpected relief.  After all, seldom do we like every part of our work.  With me, I had long ago grown weary of traveling for work–I’d been a sky-flyer for the better part of 30 years–so I was okay with letting go of that part of my work.

You start making the changes you can.  Maybe you decide to move in a brand new work direction or finally decide to live your life’s dream.  Those steps are relatively easy.

You’ve even accepted most of what you can’t change and work toward making lemonade out of lemons.

And still, there’s one thing, maybe more, that lies in the muck between what you can’t change and what you can.  You struggle with it, inwardly knowing you should let it go, but you also believe the old adage that you must do everything you can to eliminate any future regrets.

So you search for something–anything–to make the unacceptable acceptable.  You spend countless hours researching, talking to qualified professionals, pursuing all options.

You lose sleep and serenity.

Control slips from your grip yet you clutch and grab for the fraying strings of what you hope will be the one answer that eludes you.

When you least expect it, the wisdom comes.

I was sitting in a business meeting at my 12-step group over the weekend.  As is our custom, we opened the meeting with The Serenity Prayer.  God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and WISDOM TO KNOW THE DIFFERENCE.

The letters hit my mind in flashing caps.  I knew I was done.  It was time to unlock the vise grip I held on what I instinctively knew I couldn’t have.

Suddenly the only thing that mattered was letting go.

Thanks to the wisdom to know the difference, I finally could.

Photo courtesy of’s Bliss Blog.

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  1. Galen Pearl says:

    When I talk about the serenity prayer in my 10 Steps discussions, we always start with the last line first. Once we determine what we can and can’t change, then we can look to courage for one and serenity for the other.

    So how can we tell the difference? Basically, we can change or control everything that we do or think or say. Everything else goes in the category of what we can’t change or control!

    More than anything, though, I’m pleased for you that you are moving to a place of peace. This has been a very challenging time to go through for you, I know.

  2. I so love what you have done with your site. I do not mean to denigrate any part of what you have here. My only concern is that the author of the Serenity Prayer lived over 2,000 years ago. It has been modified over the years. First, in roughly 348 B.C. Versa wrote the first serenity prayer. It was a major prayer of the Stoics, (Stoicism philosophy and spirituality) In 169 A.D. Marcus Aurelius made it read a bit easier. I offer you both versions below. This takes noting away from Mr. Reinhold Niebuhr, it merely points out that the concepts within the Serenity Prayer are not all that new to mankind.

    Here we go with the Stoic version as of 169 A. D.:

    “To avoid unhappiness, frustration,
    and disappointment, we, therefore, need
    to do two things:

    Control those
    things that are within our power
    (namely our beliefs, judgments, desires,
    and attitudes)

    and be indifferent
    or apathetic to those things which are not in our power (namely, things
    external to us).”

    An update after more studies:

    It was pointed out that the main difference between the two passages is that the modern version includes a bit about knowing the difference between the two.

    While that may be, the Stoic version states those which are within our power — the personal things like our own beliefs, our judgments, and our desires. Those are the things we should have the power to change.

    I offer this only to show that we struggle, still, with many of the same issues as did our ancestors.

    Be well. Stephen Carey

    • Beth says:

      There is some comfort is struggling like our ancestors did, isn’t there, Stephen? On the other hand, it would be nice to reach a bot of a higher form of enlightenment! Thank you for the history and the perspective. Thanks too for the compliments about B Here Today.

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