I’ve always had trouble with one phrase in the serenity prayer, “to accept the things that cannot be changed.”
The original, attributed to Niebuhr, is: God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other. Living one day at a time, Enjoying one moment at a time, Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, Taking, as Jesus did, This sinful world as it is, Not as I would have it, Trusting, that You will make all things right, If I surrender to Your will, So that I may be reasonably happy in this life, And supremely happy with You forever in the next. What if the things I cannot change are unfair, damaging, painful, sinful, and just wrong? Is it OK for me to say that these things are in fact wrong? May I call a spade a spade? Wouldn’t anything else be false and God hates falsehood and truth sets me free. When John the Baptist confronted Herod, wasn’t that a situation he could not control yet he stood up and called sin, sin. Of course he lost his head over it. I like my version of the prayer:” God help me to do the little I can and like myself when it isn’t that much!”
I think that what I am called to accept is that my GRACE-strength, MERCY-worth, and PEACE– hope are not attached to how the situation turns out after I have obeyed and done my part. That I am free to love the unlovable people who won’t let me change them, to pray for them and do good to them. I need to turn to God and cry out Thanks! Help! and Show me what I can do, rather than focus on what I can’t
When Joseph’s brothers were trying to figure out why he hadn’t killed them all when he could; they concluded that it was because Joseph didn’t want to cause their father pain. When Jacob died, they all ran over to Joseph and begged him to not take it out on them. They still didn’t get it, so Joseph had to explain.
And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God?
But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them. Genesis 50:19-21 KJV Do you see how Joseph didn’t say that their deeds weren’t evil, but he had a God big enough to bring a higher good out of the evil situation and even turn around and do good to his hateful brothers? Radical acceptance hates the evil and attacks it even if it seems hopeless and feels great for the privilege of being a fellow soldier and sufferer with Jesus, not attaching my own worth to doing things perfectly or getting a perfect result.