The serenity prayer asks for the wisdom to know the difference. What does this mean? And how does it happen?
Ester joined me for a conversation about these questions. We thought we might structure our conversation by starting with the idea of “Knowing when I don’t know.” Then how “wisdom to know the difference” in the serenity prayer is helpful to recovery.
And finally, how we might use “wisdom to know the difference” can apply very broadly to recovery in ways that aren't maybe immediately obvious in the serenity prayer (with Courage to Change October 10, if we need a guiding reading). Often, I need to pray for the wisdom to know the difference between a bunch of dualisms that sometimes appear to be the same, such as these:
assertiveness and arrogance
When does assertiveness—standing my ground on principles and values that matter to me—cross the line into arrogance?
Almost always when I am fearful or insecure, particularly of my powerlessness. And arrogance is me trying to exercise my self-will again.
When I use the slogans such as “think (x 3)” I realize that I am single-handedly attempting to fight an entire system that I’m working within.
When I pause I can ask myself whether I have the wisdom to know the difference between
a) standing up for what I believe is acceptable in my own hula hoop, on the one hand, and
b) what I believe is a problem with an entire system, that has been occurring over a series of decades, and which I cannot will to change (no matter how many self-righteous statements I might make).
something that is important and something that is urgent
I often lack the wisdom to know the difference between these. Sometimes I have trouble completing important projects because I cannot always see how other things I’m focusing on doing, while they may be important, are not urgent.
I tend to like “clearing my desk” so will work through things that really should be my B and C lists while items on my A list get completely neglected.
Another reason for this imbalance of priorities is that I also have trouble distinguishing between doing a healthy amount of what I would call the “service” part of my job and letting it completely consume my working week with no time or energy left for anything else.
I tend to view the tasks that require external accountability as the urgent ones because I am afraid of the consequences of not giving people what they want immediately and at the highest possible standard.
I tend to do what someone else asks of me before the things that were already on my to-do list. Leads to neglecting my own goals. In some situations, to the detriment of my career progression. The “service” part of my job is important work, but has to sit on a steady foundation of basic needs, self-care, and wishes. Otherwise I self-sabotage, reinforce low self-esteem, and resent the people to whom I’m externally accountable.
busyness and unmanageability
Variety & a full life = the good kind of busyness. I might be tired afterward but go to sleep peacefully at the end of it and be satisfied with it.
I can usually tell when busyness crosses over into unmanageability when I notice myself feeling agitated, crotchety, irritable. When very small things make me very mad, I know I’m becoming unmanageable.
There are certainly more we could explore, but this is where we stopped.
Readings and Links
Next up: It's not your fault.
Do you feel like “it” is your fault? Are you criticized, blamed, accused
and sometimes even feel responsible somehow for other’s bad choices or
behavior? Do you blame and criticize yourself? Do you think that somehow
you “could have done better”?
How do the 12 steps and the tools of Al-Anon help? How are you learning
to take just the right amount of responsibility for your own decisions
and actions? Where do you know that it's NOT your fault? What are you
still struggling with?
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