A few months ago, my daily lesson learned blog post was on the subject “Don’t Fret What You Can’t Control.” It was inspired by a long traffic jam on Interstate 75 returning to Louisville from a visit with my son in South Carolina. Mentioned in that post was 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.”
It came to mind again tonight when my wife came home about 10:00 p.m. and announced upon her arrival “Your car has been vandalized.” Immediately, my mind imagined the worst with windows broken, major damage, dents, scratches, etc. I was somewhat relieved to see that it was “only” some writing in red permanent marker over about a one-square-foot area on the back of the car. I didn’t like it, of course, but it wasn’t nearly what came to mind with the message I was first given.
It only took a post on Facebook to quickly have people tell us to use nail polish remover to get rid of the markings, a suggestion seconded by the police officer who came to check out the damage and record the incident. Minutes after the officer left, the markings were gone. Immediate problem solved. Of course, that doesn’t solve the potential problem of it happening again since we have no idea who did it.
In that short span of time between learning of the incident and removing the markings, I had to decide how I would respond. Part of me wanted to sound off on my social networks and threaten this unknown vandal – someone who would not have seen any post I made, anyway. It might have felt good getting the anger off my chest, but it would have just looked hot-tempered to others without contributing to solving the problem.
So I decided to just be practical instead and ask in a post how to remove it. I decided to focus on solving the immediate problem rather than feeding my anger. It was the right call.
So how does the Serenity Prayer fit in to this? Let’s see…
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change“: I couldn’t change the fact that the markings were already on the car. I couldn’t change the fact after the vandalism that the car had been parked in the driveway of an empty house across the street. I couldn’t change the fact that we had no witnesses or evidence of who might have done it.
“the courage to change the things I can“: We could crowdsource the question about how to remove the markings. We could make a conscious choice not to get loud and angry. We could use my friends’ wisdom to find a way to remove the markings. We could call the police and report it. We could make the decision to stop using the absent neighbor’s house for a spare driveway and use our own instead, even if it means more switching cars in and out as we come and go.
“and the wisdom to know the difference”: It wouldn’t make sense to leave the markings on the car and not try to find a way to remove them. Breaking out into my best Doris Day impression (young people, ask your parents) singing “Que sera, sera, whatever will be will be” would not have accomplished anything. It wouldn’t make sense to not report the vandalism and thereby keep the police in the dark about something they should be aware of as they patrol the neighborhood. It wouldn’t make sense to think that I have to get angry and loud and make a scene just because I may have reacted that way at times in the past, especially when it comes to vandalism and the sense of being violated that comes with it. It wouldn’t make sense to continue parking across the street if we suspect it is safer to park the car in our own driveway instead of the uninhabited house’s driveway.
I don’t always react the way I should when bad things happen. The personal satisfaction is much greater, however, when I get the last part of that prayer right – the wisdom to know the difference. It seems to me that spending some time looking at situations through the lens of the first two parts of the prayer – taking time to ponder what you can and can’t change about a situation – contributes greatly to the likelihood of gaining the wisdom to know the difference.