In the normal course of life, everybody will face some undesirable things that cannot be changed. These unchangeable things show up in many different ways and in a wide variety of circumstances. Life is not dealt out equally among humanity, but everyone will eventually face some unpleasant things that cannot be changed.
Struggles with this issue are not unique. Jesus knew about this. When death on the cross became an imminent reality for him, “[He] fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt. 26:39). He could have called more than 70,000 angels to rescue him, but to accomplish his mission, there was no escape; he had to face the unpleasant head-on.
Ideally, we should be able to face and deal with unavoidable problems, disappointments, and disheartening difficulties in a calm and composed manner with faith and purpose. Unfortunately, being mere mortals, the ideal is often much easier said than done. Even so, bitter complaining and stubborn or forceful resistance is never a wise response and only seems to make matters worse.
From where, then, or how can we get the proper strength of character to do right when things that are out of our control have gone wrong? How can we maintain a proper spirit and attitude when unexpected things happen that cannot be sidestepped?
The following well-known prayer has much food for thought for coping with life’s deep difficulties and unavoidable problems.
The Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
(Attributed to Reinhold Neibuhr, 1892-1971)
The author of the above prayer speaks about serenity, acceptance, courage, and wisdom as four positive character qualities. These should help us to sort out the challenges of life and choose the best mindset and course of action when we are faced difficulties.
Acceptance, surrender, and a serene commitment to our ultimate goal are key qualities for coping with negative circumstances. When Mary, the mother of Jesus, faced a weighty assignment, it appears she was able to calmly and honestly tell the angel, “Be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38).
Ultimately, God, our creator, has total control, not only of the things that confound us but everything, “For in him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Acknowledging this should make it easier for us to surrender and say, “Have Thine own way, Lord, have Thine own way” (Adelaide A. Pollard, “Have Thine Own Way, Lord,”). In his personal struggle, Apostle Paul received a promise of sufficient grace to cope with his unchangeable thorn in the flesh.
Job serves as a fantastic example of being totally flexible to God’s way. When the unthinkable happened, he said, “What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10). In other words, Job was asking his wife; “Shall we not accept whatever God allows for us, whether we like it or not?” It is doubtful that he came to this mindset by chance. It must have been his way of life. Apparently he feared God and lived uprightly long before all those unfortunate and unchangeable things happened to him. Therefore, he seemingly did not need to grope wildly for God in the middle of his crushing trials.
In Romans 9:20-21, we find some serious questions that relate to the subject matter. It says, “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay?” We could finish the question, “To make the vessels however he wants?” What can we mortals say but, “Yes, He has that power”?
In one sense, the answer to the title is simple. Unconditional and total surrender to our maker normally paves the way for grace and courage to cope and endure when the great or small unalterable difficulties come upon us. Like Moses, we should view the eternal goal (Heb. 11:26) and be like Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2).
Another thing to keep in mind is that all of life is temporary. First Peter, chapter one, talks about the necessity of facing difficulties for a time. Many comments have been made, and there are songs about facing life one day at a time.
It helps to focus on what we can control rather than lamenting about what we cannot control. Readjusting one’s goals accordingly helps to avoid frustration. Reach out for support if the going gets too tough. Try to avoid “if only” thoughts. And we do well to be thankful for the good things we have to enjoy.
Let us all “Press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).
From Messenger of Truth, 2018, No. 19