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Serenity, Courage, and Wisdom

Marissa's mom could tell there was something wrong the minute Marissa slunk in the door after school. "What's wrong?" she asked.

"Nothing."

"Come on," her mother coaxed, "I know you better than that. Sometimes it helps to talk about things."

"I'll tell you what the problem is," blurted out Marissa. "The problem is that Jordan is a crazy, nasty, lying little... " Marissa caught her mother's raised eyebrow and finished the sentence,"... witch."

"Wow," said her mother. "I thought you two were BFFs (best friends forever)."

"Yeah, well that's what I thought, until she started yelling at me for no reason at all. Honestly, I just asked her about her weekend, and before you know it she's yelling about why am I so nosy and why do I keep poking in her business and I'm always in her face... which is just plain not true!"

"Sounds like she really lost her temper with you."

"Lost it is right!" yelled Marissa. "I'm done with her. I don't need to be treated like that. She can just find herself a different best friend, because I'm never speaking to her again."

"Well, that's one solution." Marissa's mom's voice was calm.

"Don't tell me you think I'm supposed to go back to her and apologize or something. I didn't do anything!"

"No, I don't mean that. I just wonder why she would go off like that."

"I dunno. I guess she's not the only one yelling these days. Last week she told me her parents are always fighting. She thinks they might be getting a divorce."

"So maybe you weren't really the one she was mad at."

"Maybe. But that doesn't give her the right to yell at me like that."

"No, it doesn't. But it might give you a different kind of perspective."

"Perspective?" Marissa was confused.

"You know, a different point of view."

"You mean that I should try to see things the way she sees them."

"That's one way to get a different perspective. But really what I meant was that you might be able to shift your way of seeing. If you look at the situation differently, you might find a good way to handle it."

"Like what? Stand there and get yelled at? Or am I supposed to fix her parents' marriage, so she's not all whacked out?"

Marissa's mother smiled. "I don't think either you or Marissa could do that. But you reminded me of a famous prayer which might help you try another perspective. The prayer goes: 'Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.'"

"I think I saw that on a bumper sticker before." Marissa was intrigued. "But what exactly is 'serenity'?"

"Basically, serenity is like peace. When you feel serene you feel calm and centered. You feel okay about how things are, or at least that you, yourself, are okay and will be okay."

"Huh. Say the whole thing again."
Marissa's mom repeated: "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference."

Marissa thought about those words. Then she said, "So with Jordan, I cannot change the way she yelled at me, and I cannot fix her problem with her parents. But I could try to be calm about how she acted. Maybe let her know I am still her friend, and give her a chance to talk about things if she wants to."

"Exactly!"

Marissa felt less upset already. But she wasn't sure what to do. "Jordan was really acting like a freak," she said. "I'm a little scared to talk to her."

"I'm sure," Marissa's mom said sympathetically. Then she said, "Let me tell you about the man who wrote that prayer, Reinhold Niebuhr. He was a Christian minister, and a pacifist. He believed Jesus' teachings meant participating in wars was flat out wrong.

"But then the Nazis came to power in Germany. Niebuhr was born and raised in the U.S., but his heritage was German. He felt shocked and saddened by what the Nazis were doing. As the U.S. got ready to go to war against the Nazis, he really struggled with what to preach."

"What did he do?"
"I guess he found the courage to try to change things. One thing he changed was his own thinking about war. He preached that it was important to go to war to stop the Nazis. I'm sure it took courage to let go of his pacifism, but he did it."

"Do you think he felt serenity about the terrible things the Nazis did? The things he couldn't change?" Marissa wondered.

"Serenity doesn't mean you stop caring. It means you stop wasting your energy being angry about things that have already happened or tackling problems that are not yours to solve," said her mother. "You have to practice serenity. Try to find your calm center when little things do not go your way—like not getting to watch the movie you want. Serenity calms you down, so you can find the courage for the changes you can make."

"Yeah, sometimes even the little things don't feel that little."

"True. And a fight with your best friend is always a big thing. But if you can work on the serenity to accept the things you can't change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference, you'll have gone a long way."

"I guess so. Can I call Jordan before I start my homework?"

"Sounds like wisdom to me," Marissa's mom smiled.

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Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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