8. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not CHANGE”
The word “Change” seemed simple enough. It described one thing becoming another, like a chrysalis becoming a butterfly. Plus, it described switching one thing for another, like changing a light bulb. The 1934 Webster’s Dictionary definition confirmed all of this.
The definition: “Change v. to alter by substituting something for”.
Fine; that definition was settled. So what about the drawing? The Serenity Prayer has been a favorite of many Twelve Step members for decades. And the word “Change” figures among its most important concepts. So, what change are we praying for here? Nature automatically changes a chrysalis into a butterfly; so we are not praying for that power. We replace light bulbs all the time; so we are not asking for that power either. This was a very different change, but what kind?
For inspiration, I prayed and meditated, just as I did before starting all my drawings. I cannot recall how this this particularly elaborate scene unfolded in my mind. I think the candle came first. The magnifying glass next. The scattering of spent matches, then the light streaming into the room. I don’t think I altered a single detail between the rough sketch and the final drawing.
When I was finished, I felt choked by with emotions. I had come to realize that such a welling up of emotion was a sign that I had been true to my original inspiration. Mine were not tears of sadness, but of a kind of relief and joy.
The matches described the futility of my self-will. While gazing at those curled and charred matches, I thought of every time I had tried to “do better” for my kids or my wife—but utterly failed. I did not like who I had become, yet I couldn’t stop. I could identify with the futility of trying the same solution again and again, only to come up short.
I liked the magnifying glass for several reasons. It suggested that the failing person had radically rethought their situation (or simply become completely desperate like me!). More importantly, it became clear that the solution was not found IN the room; the most obvious solution simply did not work. The magnifying glass was crucial, but it depended on sunlight entering from OUTSIDE the room to be effective.
The dictionary described “changing by substituting something for”. That resonated with the many places in recovery literature that urge us to change from self-will to the will of a Higher Power.
Perhaps it sounds silly to look at an old dictionary to gain insight into recovery-related words. Although this prayer was not written with Twelve Step recovery in mind, the words and their meanings were embraced at once in Twelve Step circles and have been recited daily at meetings ever since.
Anyone who has found some Serenity through the Twelve Steps knows that the idea presented in my drawing is not remarkable. It embodies our need for a Higher Power OUTSIDE ourselves to change our selves. Maybe that sounds cliché. But when you have been rescued from dark enough realms, gratitude beats the daylights out of originality.