From Powell’s Books:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can change; and wisdom to know the difference.
Millions of people have been moved by these famous last lines from the Serenity Prayer to make important and lasting changes in their lives. But how exactly can we know the difference? How can we acknowledge the real limits that we face without negating the possibility for dramatic change? In this wise book, Eileen Flanagan guides readers in determining what they can-or perhaps should- change in their lives, accepting what they cannot, and discovering the “wisdom to know the difference.”
I have a confession to make…….
I have had the book “The Wisdom to Know the Difference”, by Eileen Flanagan, for approximately three months, (maybe a little longer), and I have been reading it for approximately two months, (maybe a little longer). For someone who is generally a quick reader, this has seemed like a long time. Or has it?
A few weeks ago I emailed the author, explaining that the reason the book took me so long to read, was actually her fault!! (Nervy, right?). Well, I did not phrase it exactly that way – ‘her fault’. What I actually said was: “If the book was not so well written, I would have been finished reading it a long time ago!!” And what I actually meant was, had I not been so drawn into the book, its topic, and its effect on my life, I would have been finished reading it much sooner.
Yes, that’s my confession…. This book so impacted me on a personal level, I had to take it in slowly, digest it, and incorporate it into my life.
As a prayer, ‘The Serenity Prayer’, has not been a favourite of mine. My husband, on the other hand, has always had a deep connection with this prayer. As a result, he has tried to help me understand why this prayer is powerful. I always kind of fluffed him away. “Yah, yah, serenity, courage, wisdom – whatever…..”. I had my own favourite prayers.
At the end of May 2011, I read a post by Eileen Flanagan, looking for book reviewers. While writing book reviews was a new idea for me, reading books certainly was not! I replied to Eileen and a couple of weeks later the book arrived in my mail, sent free of charge, for my impartial review. The act itself was spur of the moment, and I spent the next few weeks furtively looking at this book, about this prayer that was not one of my favourites!! I must have been crazy to volunteer for this task! Toward the end of June 2011, I ventured into Eileen’s world, and began to learn a little more about this prayer, and how it has impacted a number of lives, (and not just my husband’s!).
Eileen does not simply go out into the world, ask people if they know the prayer, then ask their opinion of it. Rather, Eileen’s choice of people to write about, are clearly a small sampling of a much larger group interviewed for this book. We learn about these individuals, their life stories, and how the emotions of The Serenity Prayer have played out in their lives. One of Eileen’s literary devices is that throughout the book, some of these main characters reappear. It is not just a matter of them being introduced and described to us, but, at key intervals throughout the text, Eileen brings them back by reminding us of their stories, and how their stories continue to evolve – with The Serenity Prayer continuing to play an important role. In some cases, the individuals themselves are not necessarily aware they are living out the prayer. And that is one of my favourite portions of the book. People, who live according to their own values and characteristics, yet can be an example to me, the reader, of the impact of this powerful prayer. (Notice I now say “powerful prayer”….don’t mention that to my husband….!)
Eileen Flanagan has a knack of writing that I find particularly appealing – repetition. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do not mean simply stating the same thing over and over. What I mean is gently, without boredom, Eileen imprints key points for the reader. Making her points stronger over time, but in each telling and sharing, being done in new and informative ways. One of my favourite Christian writers – Ronald Rolheiser – has this same story-telling knack. Gentle – soft – peaceful. Bringing the reader to an “Ah-Ha” moment with skill and dexterity, without being the least bit repetitive or tedious. It is a tremendous way to learn new concepts and thought processes.
Through the reference to other Christian authorities, Eileen brings additional credibility to her own research, and a familiarity to her writings. And not only do we learn more about key characters, as we move forward in Eileen’s book, the author brings forward earlier concepts. Once again, bringing us to a deeper understanding of what Eileen’s focus is on.
The Serenity Prayer holds some big words: serenity, courage, wisdom. Eileen starts by narrowing down these words, to smaller, everyday expressions, phrases, and examples; and concludes the book by bringing them all together in the amazing words of the prayer itself. (Notice I now say “amazing words of the prayer”……do you think I need to share this with my husband?!)
My journey with this prayer, with this book, “The Wisdom to Know the Difference”, has been a very personal one, and this is not the place for review of my prayer journey. But, this is the place for a review of this book. And my opinion to you is that your own prayer journey will not be complete without spending some time with The Serenity Prayer, and definitely some significant time with Eileen Flanagan’s book: “The Wisdom to Know the Difference – When to Make a Change – and When to Let Go”.
P.S. I have since confessed all to my husband, and now, this book is on his reading list!