Accepting What Cannot Be Controlled
“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.” – The Serenity Prayer
Great peace of mind comes from many sources, one of the more important ones being the ability to accept that some things that happen in life are beyond your control and you cannot do anything about them. If you are able to accept these events and just let them pass through your life, you will avoid the unnecessary stress that comes from worrying about the inevitable.
I recently experienced a series of events that tested my ability to not only accept that which I cannot change, but to also correctly determine which things are under my control and which ones are not.
It started very simply. I was driving around a parking lot, looking for a space, when I noticed an elderly gentleman struggling to get out of the driver’s seat of his car. He was in a handicapped spot, had very skinny arms and legs, and a cane. As much as he tried, he could not get up out of his seat. I saw two people walk right by him and offer no assistance. I decided that as soon as I parked, I would rush over to help him. In my eagerness to help him, I forgot that I had plugged my phone into my charger and left it in the car.
When I arrived at the gentleman’s car, he was still sitting in the driver’s seat. I asked him politely if he needed any help. He glared at me and said no, he did not. And after a pause said thank you. I proceeded to do my shopping and after several minutes noticed that I did not have my phone. I returned quickly to my car, and saw that I had several missed phone calls. I called the person back, but the fact that I had missed the initial calls had already put me in a very difficult situation which I did my best to rectify.
My initial knee-jerk reaction was: “This is what happens when you try to be nice to someone. I go out of my way to help someone who rejects my help and in the process create a huge headache for myself.” The next logical knee-jerk reaction would have been: “Well, I’m never doing that again!” But then I would have learned nothing from this experience. So instead, when I had some time to think about it, I went through each of the events and evaluated them.
1. I noticed someone that I thought needed help and decided to help him. This is something that I could change in the future, but why should I? Wanting to help someone when it is fully in my ability to do so is a good thing. Why would I not do it again?
2. The person rejected my offer of help. Is this something that I could change? Very likely not. I may have startled him, he may have been worried for his safety, he may have been too proud to accept help, or maybe there was some other reason that I haven’t thought of.
3. Someone called me when I didn’t have my phone. I have no control over when someone might call me so I can’t change this.
4. The caller became extremely aggravated when he couldn’t reach me. I have no control over another person’s actions or reactions so I can’t change this either.
5. So here is the ONLY event that I both can and should change: I forgot my phone in the car. When charging my phone, I would typically place it in the cup holder because that way the cord from the charger wouldn’t get in the way of the gear shift. I figured out that by stretching the coiled cord and jamming it between the seat and the armrest, I can extend it far enough to place the phone in my lap and still not interfere with the gear shift. If the phone is in my lap, the odds that I will forget it in the car again are almost zero. Is it absolutely foolproof? No, but almost nothing is (another thing that I need to accept).
By evaluating that series of events and determining what I had to accept and let go, and what I had to change and improve, my peace of mind was greatly increased. The next time something like this happens to you, go through the exercise of evaluating each event independently. Have the serenity to accept those you cannot change, the courage to change those you can, and the wisdom to see the difference.