Change What You Can, Pray About What You Can’t

By Kristen Clark

People who struggle with confidence often focus on the things they cannot change.  Unfortunately, this focus perpetuates a common thinking disorder known as the victim mentality – blaming people, places and things, rather than taking responsibility, for one’s life and circumstances.

Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled, explains that it’s difficult to treat this character defect.  Simply put, the motto of the victim-mentality mindset is, “it’s not my fault,” making successful treatment challenging because “victims” do not take personal responsibility for their part in their own situation.

The Serenity Prayer, written by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971) and adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step programs, is an effective tool for overcoming the victim mentality.

Serenity Prayer

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.

I use this prayer to let go of things out of my control and focus on things in my control by applying the prayer directly to my specific situation.  Here are a few examples:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, like the fact that I was recently laid-off at work.  Courage to change the things I can, including my attitude and approach to looking for a new job elsewhere.  And in knowing the difference, help me focus on the latter.”

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, like the fact that I am the victim of identity theft.  Courage to change the things I can, including my ability to file a police report, make known my situation to the credit bureaus, and complete the lengthy paperwork and process designed to protect myself.  And in knowing the difference, help me focus on the latter.”

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, like the fact that my husband just left me for another woman.  Courage to change the things I can, including my ability to seek counseling and heal from this devastation so that I don’t blame myself for the situation or unfairly judge all men.  And in knowing the difference, help me focus on the latter.”

Using the Serenity Prayer to face challenging situations eliminates my need or desire to shift the onus of the situation to an outside influence.  Rather than suggesting that I play no role in creating or improving the situation, it empowers me to change what I can about it.  By not being the victim, I can focus on what I can change and affect things positively. This builds confidence.

What about those things I cannot change?  Those things I leave to God, just as Philippians 4:6 reminds me to do.  I turn over to Him the things I cannot affect (nor be anxious about) so that I can play an active role in the things I can.  In essence, I change what I can and pray about what I can’t. I do my part and leave the rest to God.

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