Recently I found a document I’d written more than a year ago and then forgotten. It’s titled “The wisdom to know the difference,” and it consists of a chart with two columns: “Things I can change” and “Things I can’t change.”
The title of this document comes from the serenity prayer–“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”–and I was floored by its simplicity. More than a year ago, I decided to list and then sort the things weighing on my mind: these are the things I can control, and these are the things I can’t.
The things I listed then are still largely relevant. I still can’t control whether I get re-hired full-time at Framingham State, whether I feel inspired to write, or whether I have to juggle my creative life with teaching and household chores. I can still control when and whether I meditate, when and whether I write, and when and how much time I spend grading and doing chores.
I don’t remember the exact situation that led me to type this document, but I can take a guess. It was February, 2016 when I wrote it, and I was probably feeling overwhelmed and powerless, led around by obligations like a bull with a ring in his nose. February is a dark time of both the semester and the year, and when there are some things you can’t control, it’s easy to think you can’t control anything.
Years ago, someone told me the best way out of a downward spiral is to take one step sideways: a simple step that is much more attainable than turning your life completely around. Looking back on the lists I made more than a year ago, I’m happy to note I’ve been meditating and writing more now than I was then: the things I can’t control remain the same, but I’ve been taking better care of the things I can.
I suppose that’s the best one do: take care of the things you can control, and hold out hope for the rest. Although I’ve always been interested in spiritual practice, I’m not by nature a person of faith: my favorite Bible character is Doubting Thomas, and one of my favorite Bible verses is “I believe, Lord; help my unbelief.” I have a hard time, in other words, accepting the things I cannot change, but I’m getting better at changing the things I can. And more than a year after writing those two lists, I’m still praying for the wisdom to know the difference.