Reflections on the Serenity Prayer (from an Enneagram 1)

This week on The Whole House podcast (specifically, episode 99), Kathleen and I talked about the Serenity Prayer.

If you’ve listened to the podcast the last couple of months, you’ve probably heard us mention the Enneagram and the fact that we’re both 1s. On the Enneagram, a 1 is described as “The Perfectionist” or “The Reformer.” We seek order. We see room for improvement everywhere — within ourselves, in others, and in the world around us — and we are constantly trying to make things better. We aren’t satisfied until things are perfect, and because we have impossibly high standards, we rarely think that goal has been achieved. And here’s the thing — it’s really hard for us to let things go.

That’s why the Serenity Prayer speaks to me in such a deep way. I know I need help with serenity. I am awful at it.

You’ve probably seen the Serenity Prayer on a hundred different bookmarks, plaques, and Christian bookstore items, but in case you need a refresher, here it is:

Lord, 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.

(If you’re interested in reading a longer version of the prayer, you can find that here.)

Now, let’s break down what the Serenity Prayer means to a 1, phrase by phrase. I’m going to them a little out of order, though. You’ll see why (hopefully).

Courage to Change The things I can

This one is easy for 1s, I think. We don’t generally have trouble jumping in to fix things we think are wrong. If something doesn’t measure up, we will either say something or fix it ourselves.

To clarify — by “if,” I mean “when,” and by “something,” I mean “everything.” The phrase “good enough” isn’t part of our vocabulary. We all know, intellectually, that perfection isn’t really attainable, but that doesn’t stop us from trying. We are hardwired to see flaws, and we feel it is our duty to fix them.

Our efforts to change things don’t really feel like courage. Changing things is just what we do. After all, we’re striving for perfection. If things aren’t perfect now, something needs to change, and for the most part, we don’t mind being the driving force behind that change.

wisdom to know the difference

This one is a little harder. Just like I understand, as a rational fact, that perfection isn’t a realistic goal, I understand that there are many things I have absolutely zero control over.

But that doesn’t stop me from trying.

I know, for instance, that I cannot change other people. But deep inside, part of me still believes that if I could just find the right words, I could convince others I am right and motivate them to change. And then the world would be a better place. I’ve put a lot of thought into things, so I’m pretty sure my way is the best way. It’s frustrating when others don’t see it that way. I’m only trying to help, after all.

The authors of “The Road Back to You” explain it well:

What most people don’t understand is that Ones don’t think they’re being critical. In their mind they’re trying to help you! They think they’re improving you! Doesn’t everyone want to improve themselves like they do?

So yeah. I have some knowledge of what I can change and what I can’t. Wisdom is something different:

Many experts define knowledge as understanding basic facts, truths, and information. We gain knowledge from learning and education.

Wisdom, on the other hand, is the ability to use knowledge in a practical, intelligent way. Rather than from learning or education, most people believe wisdom comes from everyday experiences.

Knowledge is possessing a mental understanding of certain information. Wisdom is the practical ability to use your knowledge to make good decisions consistently throughout your life.

(Taken from the article “What’s the Difference Between Wisdom and Knowledge?” by Wonderopolis)

As a 1, wisdom is exactly what I need. It is a fact that we cannot change other people, and I know that. What I need is the ability to apply that knowledge to my life and, well, stop trying to change other people. (And anything else that, despite my best intentions and the temptation to think otherwise, I am not actually in control of.)

And we need more than just wisdom to differentiate between things we can and cannot change. Often, we need wisdom to decide whether something even *needs* to be changed in the first place. After all, things don’t need to be perfect to be good. Neither do people.

Serenity to accept the Things I Cannot Change

This is the big one.

Ones have a lot of positive attributes. We’re responsible and dependable. We’re thorough and detail-oriented, and we strive for excellence. We are conscientious. As noted in The Road Back to You, “Ones want to be good people. They always want to do the right thing.” We express our love by “being responsible and doing what expected of [us] to make the world a better, more secure place for you.”

One thing 1s absolutely ARE NOT is serene. We are primed to see mistakes everywhere we look. We have high standards, and we expect a lot of ourselves, in particular. Our inner critic keeps us engaged in a constant inner dialogue filled with questions like, “Am I a good mother? Am I doing enough? Am I good enough? Have I done anything wrong? Is there something I could have done better.”

It is, quite frankly, exhausting — for us, and for those around us. (Sorry about that!) It’s hard for us to silence our inner critic. It’s hard for us to relax. It’s hard for us to let things go. Even if it’s something that no sane person would hold us responsible for, we feel like we can and should be able to improve it.

The Road Back to You sums up our struggle with serenity in this way: “If you’re a One, you believe the only way you’ll know peace on the inside is if you perfect everything on the outside.” You can see the problem with this way of thinking. If we don’t let ourselves feel at peace until everything around us and within is perfect, we will never feel at peace.

And that’s why I keep coming back to this prayer. Not only can I not change other people, but I cannot change myself, really, without God’s help. I need this prayer. I need serenity. I need to let go. But I so desperately need divine intervention to achieve it.

So, Lord, 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.

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