“I picked up a book at a garage sale, The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness and Effectiveness,” wrote Susan Humphreys. She tells us that this is a book about the teachings of Epectetus, an ancient pagan Greek philosopher. He was born around 55 CE and taught in Rome until he was exiled to Greece by the emperor, Domitian.
We may find this book title and its description a bit uninteresting and even dull and challenging. But we might be amazed when Epectetus’ teaching starts with a simple sentence to which we all can readily relate. “Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one important principle: some things are within our control and some things are not.” We may well know what this author is telling us! Many of our life experiences have already taught us this. But let’s give some of the ramifications of her opening statement a little more thought.
Perhaps this concept may remind us of the Serenity Prayer that asks that we be granted the “serenity to accept the things we cannot change and the courage to change the things we can and the wisdom to know the difference.” The prayer starts with “Grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change.” This doesn’t mean that we won’t stress over those things, but it points out the need to accept and reach inner peace about them as our goal.
In reference to this topic, therapist and author David Richo lists five unavoidable givens that challenge us and “come to visit us many times over” in our lifetime.
- Everything changes and ends.
- Things do not always go according to plan.
- Life is not always fair.
- Pain is part of life.
- People are not loving and loyal all the time.
Richo speaks of an authentic life as saying “yes” to many things in life just as they are. In other words, our path is “what is!” Maybe we have it wrong and need to alter our thinking. We need to ask ourselves several questions. Do we want to get our way all the time or flow with life, make sure our plans go our way or trust that surprises will open new vistas for us? Are we intent on getting a fair deal or to be upright and loving people? To avoid pain or learn from it, to be loved by everyone or show love to everyone? Serenity asks us to accept what we cannot change rather than try to be in control all the time. Control is being set on specific outcomes – being wrongly confident of knowing what is best for us. One of many inspirational quotes written by two authors known as Marc and Angel is: “When you stop worrying about what you cannot control, you have the time to change the things you can control and that changes everything!”
Granted, it is our attitudes and reactions that give us trouble. There are things in life we absolutely cannot change. Blaming someone or something is foolish, yet we do it. Finger pointing is futile, yet we do it. Rather, we must start with identifying the problem and, if it’s changeable, change it! But we need wisdom to know when to try to change a situation and when we cannot do anything about it. Example: We can’t change the past, only learn from it. We can only change the present and we don’t know what will happen in the future. Clearly then, we can’t always control what happens each day, but we can control how we react. And, the more we examine our attitudes and work on improving ourselves, the less we are participants of stormy reactions. If we read between the lines we might stop blaming others – those who are different, who think or act differently, who believe differently from us, etc. Accept the things we cannot change! There are those who speak of the control mode. They compare this mode to someone in a small boat paddling upstream against the current which is very difficult. But if they turn the boat around and let go of the oars, the boat will calmly float downstream. The key is to let go of the oars!
The fact that there is much in life we cannot control means that we need God’s grace, the spiritual complement to effort. When we think we cannot get through a situation and yet we do, the grace of God’s life is in us. When we cannot find the light, and yet we finally do, the grace of the Light of the World is working through us. When we find it difficult to accept what we cannot control or change, the grace of the Spirit is breathing through us. Once we realize that we are supported by the grace of God to see what can be changed and what cannot, we will understand that being in control may not be in our best interest. Learning this lesson will result in knowing and accepting the fact that God’s plan is continually working for our good. So, we pray that God will give us the wisdom and the insight to change what we can and the grace and courage to accept what we cannot!
Sister Lauretta Leipzig