5. “God grant me the serenity to accept the THINGS I cannot change.”
As I looked up Serenity Prayer words in my old Webster’s dictionary, I continued to be surprised. For example, I had been using the word “thing” since an early age but never gave it a second thought. I might ask my mother, “Where is that thing that spins around when you blow on it?” She knew exactly what I meant. Everyone seemed to know what “thing” meant without ever hearing a definition. The word felt thoroughly modern to me, and I even suspected it was some sort of slang. I could not have been more wrong.
The definition: “Thing n. a matter of concern”.
The word “thing” was used back in c.1600 to indicate matters a legislative speaker could not name at the moment. For example, if someone handed the speaker a piece of paper with writing on it, it was his job to determine whether it was a law, a bill, an amendment, a proposal, an objection, or some other matter. If it was something trivial (i.e., a lunch invitation), he would never bring it before the legislature. However, if it were potentially important (i.e., a written request that an official matter be looked into), the speaker would call that document a “thing”. Later on, it might would be categorized more specifically, but for the moment it would merely be a matter for concern—a “thing”.
In my own recovery, I remember many times when something caught my attention but had no certain meaning. When I missed an important meeting and had no legitimate excuse, was that serious or just a trivial slip? When I missed buying a birthday gift for my child because my obsessions were distracting me, did that really matter or should I shrug it off? When I chose to pursue the company of strangers and neglect my wife, was that trivial or grave? At that time, I could not distinguish the minor from the major.
The Big Book defines our insanity as “a lack of proportion, of the ability to think straight” (p. 37) I believe that means we cannot distinguish the minor from the major. Just like me, the alcoholic may not accurately see the difference between spending their paycheck on their family versus spending it on liquor. I compare this person to a legislative speaker who has lost the ability to distinguish one type of bill from another.
My drawing for the word “thing” includes a huge brick arch. After a moment, it becomes clear to the viewer that a brick is suspended in mid-air and appears to have fallen from the arch. Nothing about the scene is necessarily alarming at first. But there is something mysterious afoot.
What is the meaning or origin of that lone brick? Did someone idly drop an unimportant brick from above, just to watch it splash harmlessly into the water? Or did a very crucial brick come loose and fall on its own? If it is just one brick breaking loose from the bridge, is that a trivial matter? Or is that dire a warning sign of a very, very serious problem with the entire bridge?
The drawing captures a moment when we see something but we are just not sure what it means. We cannot yet put it into it’s correct proportion (see definition of insanity again on page 37 of the Big Book). The matter has our attention, but we do not yet know what category to put it in—so we are just like that speaker of the legislature in c. 1600.
In the Serenity Prayer, I ask for the “courage to change the THINGS I can”, etc. By using that word, I am admitting that I cannot know what my Higher Power knows. I cannot distinguish those uncertain “things” the way He can.
Instead of “faking it until I make it”, I must honestly admit when I am ignorant and do not understand my situation fully. This admission invites my Higher Power to help me sort out the many matters of concern that may arise today. As things are placed into their correct proportion, I find that my addictive “insanity” diminishes and I can live free again.
One thing at a time. One day at a time.