Serenity, courage and wisdom are intergral parts of a life well lived. They are addressed in the serenity prayer that so many people know and make part of their life.
The bipolar serenity prayer is one of the posts we have gotten the most reponse to. It is reprinted below along with another post: “A bipolar serenity prayer revisited.”
A friend one time told me that the serenity prayer was the best description he knew of successful recovery from bipolar disorder. He described it a little differently than you normally hear:
God- Life is about more than me. There is a meaning and design to the world independent of what I think or feel. The first (and maybe biggest) trap of bipolar is to convince you that “it” is all about you and the measure of how things are is how you feel. “Life is not about what I can or cannot control, thank goodness, because so much of this is beyond my control.” There is a “higher power.” There is someone to turn to when I feel all alone and powerless and all feels loss.
grant me the serenity- “Grant”- that means it is a gift. It is not something I earn or create. Serenity is not something that I accomplish. It is something I accept. And again it means giving up my need to control. “If everytime I say control I could change it to manage or influence my life would be so much better.” Serenity is a focus on here and now. It is not being angry or sad about things gone wrong, or anxious about things yet to go wrong. Serenity is about taking things as they come.
To accept the things I cannot change- acceptance is such a major part of dealing with this. So much time is needlessly worrying about “what I got”, and not enough about “what I do with it.” Control is a focus on what I got. Management is a focus on what I do with it. A first rule of walls- “No matter how much you bang your head on them it doesn’t create a door to walk through.”
the courage to change the things I can- To live with bipolar means to be scared. There is a good reason some people call it a “terminal disease.” Positive steps are sometimes so small that they don’t always even seem a step. There are enough wounds and scars that you can’t help but worry sometimes about what is next. “And sometimes it so hard and so tiring and seems so impossible you just don’t want to try. Giving up seems to make such good sense.”
And the wisdom to know the difference- The beginning of all is to know. “Knowledge is necessity.” A big part of knowing what to do is knowing what you got. Another major part of wisdom is staying focused. Looking. Not assuming that because something feels so it doesn’t make it so. Wisdom also means realizing when you are not being so smart. The smartest thing is to be able to see our foolishness quick enough not to wreck.
It is important to realize that these things don’t just happen sequentially. It isn’t just do this first and this second and so on. Each one feeds into the other and the other feeds into it. Serenity helps give you courage, but courage increases your serenity. Wisdom helps to develop both, but each of them also increases wisdom. It is a net in effect. The serenity prayer in a real way is a safety net to keep you from drowning in the high waters of bipolar.
A few months ago I wrote a post called the bipolar serenity prayer. In this post I revisit it.
God grant me the serenity,
To accept the things cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
These words describe much about what it means to live a good life in my view. One of the things they do best of all is describe the spiritual aspects of recovery. I want to talk briefly about 3 words: serenity, courage, and wisdom.
Serenity is not the product of our actions, but rather a by product of the way we see. To have serenity means to believe in a larger truth. It means believing that the life is about more than what is happening right now. It means believing that life is about more than me. It means believing that it has a direction and purpose and trusting and believing in that purpose. When I read about people who have coped with extreme misery and disaster in their lives with serenity the one thing they all have in common is the certainity of a greater truth and greater purpose.
One of the greatest lies told to people with mental health issues is that they are incapable of living lives of purpose, that the most they can hope for is a marginal life. The idea that they can base their life on a greater truth of some kind is viewed as foolishness. They are told too often, either directly or by implication, that they are so diminished that all they can ever do is focus their lives on self maintanence. The problem is not in being told to take care of yourself. The problem is being told that is “all” you are capable of doing.
People I know who have no sense of a greater truth in their life dont do well in the pursuit of serenity. Everything is a fight. And often it seems like it is the same fight each day. Sometimes they just give up. Suffering without a reason to carry one is deadly to all of us. Even in AA they recognize the importance of service and the central truth that by living for something other than yourself you actually get the most out of life. Caring for something or someone else is good for you.
Our greater truths give our lives story and we are not left asking “what is going on here?’ All truths, by the way, do not seem to be equal. Some of them are not too great. For example, I know people whose great truth is making money or having fun. When life is about “getting” it is really just about you.
Courage is the decision to persist even when it is hard. It implies that you will continue to do good things even when you dont feel like it or even when you dont really want to. Courage is not based on how you feel. It is not the opposite of being scared. Many of the people who are among the most courageous I know are frequently scared and even terrified. Courage is based on who you want to be and how you want to live. If serenity is based on a greater truth courage is based on the commitment to that greater truth.
Wisdom is about discernment. It is great to know where you want to go and to be committed to getting there, but neither do much good unless you can see how the trip is going.
So in one sense then the serenity prayer is asking for three things. The knowledge of a greater truth, the commitment to that truth and the good sight to see how you are doing. People talk about it in all kinds of ways: purpose, calling, life plan etc. But people need completion and the prayer is about asking for the ingredients of that completion.
A personal note. For me the greater truth is found in my faith in Jesus Christ. Particulary in his commandment to love God and love your neighbor. I believe that faith offers the world its greatest hope, but unfortunately the Christian religion fairly consistently gets in the way of it.
I wish you serenity and courage and wisdom. Sometimes I feel like I have them, but in hard times they sometimes seem very absent. All of us are limited and finite. We all need more than ourselves. Most of all I pray you find what you need.