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.
This popular short prayer about acceptance has been spuriously attributed to Thomas Aquinas, Cicero, Augustine, Boethius, Marcus Aurelius and Francis of Assisi. Actually, it was written in the 1940s by a Protestant minister, born in Wright City, Mo. His simple prayer has helped soldiers, sailors, addicts and even ordinary people grow in the virtue of acceptance.
When we pray this short prayer, we should notice that acceptance in neither approval nor a passive tolerance of a situation; it is simply our request that we might suspend our judgment in the knowledge that we are not all-knowing. We recognize that our own perspective may not see the bigger picture of God's plan for us and our world. We pray for the courage and wisdom to change what we can, and to keep watch for the ever-unfolding plan of the Kingdom of God.
St. Ignatius Loyola instructed the directors of the Spiritual Exercises to approach all in the spirit of openness and acceptance. His instruction is a good way for all of us to approach our own lives, and each other, for he shows us that if we believe that God is in all things, then God's voice can be heard in all parts of our lives and with everyone we meet. The change that most of us need to make is to set aside our preconceived ideas or assumptions so we can hear and even understand the way others speak God's words through their words.
This Ignatian approach is intended and able to help us become freer to see, appreciate and understand the work of God in our lives. Too often, our assumptions or expectations limit our perception of what is really possible, or what is really going on. Our assumptions or expectations seem to cloud our openness to the real reality in ways which limit our actions, our reaction to people and situations. By suspending "our best guesses," we have a better chance to see things for what they might be — perhaps even as they're really intended, so we're more able to understand the actions and reaction of others and ourselves, better. We become free of our own limited abilities to guess about the future and become more awake to the present.
As we all strive to live more peacefully with our world and others and ourselves, let us pray that we might receive the gifts of acceptance, courage and wisdom mentioned in this simple prayer.
Let us accept those people and situations we cannot change and seek the courage to change those things we are empowered to change, knowing that this may mean we must first change ourselves, our attitudes and the ways we react. These gifts, this prayer, can help us change ourselves, and change our world, through the serenity we seek.
D. Highberger, S.J.
P. Stark, S.J.