Editor’s note: Liberty Forrest, author of several self-help books and a certified Law of Attraction Life Coach, reminds us of the beauty and power of the Serenity Prayer, and how it can help us let go of what no longer supports us. Read more about Liberty.
By Liberty Forrest
As you’ve landed on this site, I’m guessing you’ve been slammed with a lot of lessons on “letting go.” Perhaps you’ve had to let go of dreams, your home, family members, a relationship, your lifestyle, the past, or a long list of other aspects of your life. It can feel completely devastating. You might even feel like it’s more than you can bear.
I can relate to that; I’ve been there myself, many times, so I do understand how painful it can be.
And I also know that you can get through it, one step at a time.
A dear friend and wise man said, “Sometimes the holding on is harder than the letting go.” I didn’t understand immediately, but within a few days, something settled inside me and I knew that truer words had never been spoken. Suddenly, I found myself ready, willing and able to let go of whatever needed going. And once I’d let go of those attachments, I was free.
Did that mean it stopped hurting? Of course not. But at least I didn’t feel like I’d be stuck in that pain forever, and unable to let go of what wasn’t working in my life. I had a new perspective and every time the pain bubbled up, I had a new strategy for dealing with it. I’d love to share it with you today.
The first step in identifying when it’s time to let go is to examine these words:
“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.” — Attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr
Most of us have heard this Serenity Prayer many times. Probably for many of you, you’ve heard it so often that you’ve come to disregard it. You hear the first few words and it goes like this in your head: “God, grant me the, oh, yeah, blah blah blah, I know that poem.”
It’s a part of AA as well as similar organisations that deal with addictions, and various other support groups. You see it everywhere, on greeting cards and bookmarks and key rings and T-shirts and coffee mugs and bumper stickers, and is there any item on the planet that hasn’t had this poem on it somewhere, sometime?
This is not the poem in its entirety, but these first few lines are very powerful, all by themselves. There’s nothing flowery or descriptive or beautiful or poetic about them. There’s nothing complicated or intricate or even particularly clever about them.
They don’t stir the imagination and take you to a faraway place or tell you of adventures in another time.
They are just some simple words strung together, to create some simple phrases.
But if you look past the surface, past the unexciting exterior which is not flowery or beautiful, and which may have you bored silly from seeing it so often, if you sift through the plain little pebbles, you will find the nuggets of gold that lie hidden and waiting to be discovered.
Accept what you cannot change
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…”
This opening line of the Serenity Prayer is one of the most powerful and empowering statements in existence.
Throughout my life, I’ve heard many people telling me about the numerous ways in which they wish someone else would change, or they wish a situation would change, or they’re so frustrated with this kid or that neighbour or the boss or the job or whatever else Life is dishing out.
And I’ve certainly felt exactly the same way on countless occasions in my life. I’ve beaten my head against the wall many times, wishing someone else would change, or that something would change.
After slamming my head into that wall for many years, I learned that I cannot change anyone but myself. And I’ve been chipping away at doing just that for years. Mostly I’ve made progress, but I’m human and I can slide backward now and then, so I pick myself up and move forward once again.
Thankfully, I’ve changed a lot over the past few decades. And I trust that will continue as long as I’m drawing breath.
When you should not change
If you’ve been busy learning how to change yourself, too, and understanding that you can’t change anyone else, it is imperative that you bear in mind another significant point. This was a particularly difficult lesson for me, but I am so deeply grateful that I finally figured it out. Buckle up, this one is likely to hit you right between the eyes:
There are times when you must not change yourself to suit someone else or to fit a situation. You must honour and respect your own needs and feelings, your own spirit, the essence of who you are, and not compromise yourself or your values because someone else needs, wants, demands or expects it of you.
When you should change
“God, grant me…courage to change the things I can…”
Tolerating abuse. Giving other people your control, your power. A non-existent self-esteem. A terrible self-image. Issues with addiction. No self-love, and as a result, no self-respect. A poor education. Learning to stand up for yourself — even though this might be terrifying at first. Leaving destructive relationships. Daring to change religions. Daring to change your name. Daring to be yourself and stop hiding your individuality, whatever anyone else thinks of you. The people who love and care about you will support you. The ones who need you to stay stuck and unhappy will not. Stick with the ones who support you. The others can take a long walk off a short pier.
I made all of those changes so I know it can be done. I’ve even made the hard call and cut myself off from family members who were toxic. Yeah, it sucks, and it’s not how I’d like it to be. But I’d rather be happy than tied to people who treat me with abuse and/or disrespect.
I can assure you, it has taken a lot of courage. It is said that being brave is not about being fearless. It’s about having the fear, and doing what you fear anyway. I believe this is the truth. I can honestly say that throughout these and the many other changes I’ve made, and am continuing to make, there has been fear. And you might feel it, too.
But your Spirit sees the bigger picture. It always has and it always will. These changes are essential to your health and wellbeing, and to your progress along your spiritual path. And because of this, you will continue to be happier and more fully functional. You will be able to give more and do more for others. And so, whether or not you are sometimes fearful, you will continue to find the courage to change the things that you can, even when others oppose it, sometimes quite vigorously.
Knowing the difference
“God grant me…wisdom to know the difference.”
The trickiest bit of the Serenity Prayer. Are you resisting change? Are you forcing it — and upon whom? Yourself? Someone else? A situation? What is your responsibility? And that of someone else? Are you respecting that person? Are you respecting yourself? If you take action, will it be of benefit or will it be destructive? Or both? What action are you taking? What is the desired outcome? Can it be achieved?
Once you’ve recognised that something cannot or should not change, it follows naturally that it is time to accept this fact. It is time to let it go.
Sometimes I’ve felt like my life was just one big exercise in The Lesson of Letting Go. Letting go of people, letting go of memories, letting go of material possessions, letting go of dreams, letting go of control, letting go of fear, letting go of homes, letting go of children, letting go of my strength (or rather allowing my vulnerability), just one lesson after another after another after another. I’ve let go of so much and just when I think I’ve mastered this lesson, I am slammed yet again with more “letting go.”
Attachment and detachment
A fundamental Buddhist belief is that all suffering comes from attachment. When we are attached, we fear detachment. But if you remove the attachment, you will not suffer with a loss. You will simply accept it. This is oversimplified of course, but it will do for my purposes here. For example, if I am attached to a situation or a person, I might fear the situation changing or the person leaving.
But if I remove my attachment, then I am automatically removing the fear of the situation changing or the person leaving. The attachment is the problem, not the situation changing or the person leaving. Just as my dear friend said, the holding-on is harder than the letting-go.
I’m very grateful for having studied the philosophies of Buddhism, and incorporating much of its wisdom into my daily living. In this area of “letting go,” it has helped me enormously because I see now that my attachment to many issues, to objects and to people and expectations and so on has been the cause of a lot of pain and suffering in my life.
If you stop to think about it, I’m sure you’ll discover the same has been true for you.
Like everyone else, I’m still faced with situations that need evaluating, using my inner wisdom to know whether they require acceptance or courage, as per The Serenity Prayer. And sometimes, it is discovered that I have stumbled onto yet another lesson of letting go. Another situation where the universe insists I must let go of someone or something important to me. So I cannot say that I am entirely free of attachments but I’m much better at letting go of the ones that show up.
The experience of letting go
If you are facing the prospect of “letting go,” allow yourself to embrace the experience and trust that it is because something new is on the horizon. Think of it as an opportunity to leave behind something that is no longer working for you, and welcome the new energy that is trying to make its way into your life.
You don’t have to do it all at once. And you might slip back a little now and then. It’s okay. Just keep your eye firmly on the future and the new life and experiences that are waiting for you to enjoy them.
I can promise you that the more you embrace and use those first few lines of the Serenity Prayer, the easier it is to let go.
This article was originally published at LibertyForrest.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.