Wisdom to know the difference

Wisdom to know the difference May 14, 2019

When I made my first communion I received many gifts from friends and family members.  Among them was a rectangular, light brown ceramic plaque with praying hands on one corner and the following words, “God, 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.”  Since then, this prayer has hung in my bedroom at home.

This was a strange first communion gift because a child may not appreciate the depth of the prayer.  As I have grown older however, the prayer has always been there reminding me of the profound reality it contains.  As a priest, I find myself counseling many who deal with anger, disappointment, frustration, and despair.  The distinction made by this prayer, when lived out daily, opens the door to internal peace.

The author Stephen Covey notes that every person has a circle of concern and a circle of influence.  The circle of concern includes a series of pressing concerns from our health, our family, and our work to the increasing national debt, climate change and ongoing wars.  The circle of influence on the other hand, includes those concerns that we can directly control and impact.  Those who only focus on their circle of concern, worrying about things beyond their ability to control or influence, will become bitter and hopeless because they obsess over things they cannot change.  It is important to identify what lies within your circle of influence so that you can take concrete action.  If you are destined to impact something in your circle of concern, the first step will always be within your circle of influence.

Consider Saint Teresa of Calcutta.  As a young religious sister teaching at a boarding school in India, she became concerned about the excruciating poverty of the country.  Rather than worrying and despairing about such an enormous problem, she took a small, concrete step within her circle of influence.  She left her religious community, and began to walk the slums of Calcutta by herself to take care of the dying.  She could not fix the whole problem, but she could do a small part.  Others joined.  Moving one step at a time, she had made a significant impact worldwide by the time she died.

We waste much time and energy angry and frustrated over people or situations we cannot control.  No matter how frustrated I get because I cannot fly, I will never be able to fly.  The words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount come to mind: “can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?”  The answer is rather simple yet difficult to live out: do what is set before you, identify the things you can do and can change, take small steps, and trust that God is already present in those things beyond your control.  Sometimes the only thing I can control is what comes out of my mouth and what the way I act.  Everything else is beyond my reach.  “God, 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.”

Picture is mine, all rights reserved.  Yangtze River, China, 2017.


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