Hope For Tomorrow Counseling

“To Be Determined”: Finding Serenity, Courage, & Perspective in the Unknown

Jennifer Owen, MA, LPC, NCC

I am a planner. 

I started using planners when I was in middle school and haven’t stopped since. I thrive on to-do lists and schedules. Going to Target to buy the cutest and most organized planner for the year is like getting a present on Christmas morning! I just love it! There is something about consistency and predictability that gives me a sense of comfort. Anyone else out there a planner too? 

If you are anything like me, you are probably hating the fact that COVID-19 has thrown all of our regularly planned activities and schedules out the window. And by hate… I mean HATE! Events are getting cancelled, funerals are postponed, and work/school policies are constantly changing. I have come to loathe the phrases “cancelled”, “postponed indefinitely”, and “to be determined”. 

Now that we are living in these “unprecedented times” (don’t you just love hearing that phrase), our comfort in predictability has gone out the window. When things are “to be determined” it leaves us feeling unsettled and disappointed. 

How do we handle this uncertainty (without completely losing our minds)? I have found the principles in the Serenity Prayer to be incredibly insightful when I am struggling with the “to be determined” world around us. The Serenity Prayer is well known for its association with 12-step programs in addiction recovery (such as Alcoholics Anonymous). However, I have found that this prayer fits perfectly when circumstances around me seem out of my control. 

The Serenity Prayer reads: “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.”

Let’s break that down: 

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…”

When we find ourselves in uncertain times, it becomes difficult to feel calm. We struggle to feel peace because uncertainty makes us feel unsafe. Our anxiety increases and our need to make things certain kicks into overdrive. We begin to do outlandish things in order to feel a sense of control.

We might…

  • Attempt to plan every second of our day (or week) and get upset when something interrupts those plans
  • Begin to tell other people what to do and get angry at them when they don’t listen 
  • Pretend like nothing is wrong in order to avoid feeling anxious. 

We do these things to help ourselves feel safe. Seeking certainty is not bad in-and-of itself; however, when we attempt to control things that cannot be controlled, we only become more overwhelmed, more frustrated, and more anxious. 

Serenity can be defined as “the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled”. By asking God to give us serenity, we are asking him to help us feel safe. We can also begin to feel more serenity in our lives when we implement calming strategies such as deep breathing, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindfulness. When we feel a sense of peace come over us, we stop overplanning, we stop telling people what to do, we stop feeling anxious. We feel safe. We feel calm despite the uncertainty. 

“… courage to change the things I can…”

In a world full of uncertainty, it may seem difficult to find things that you have the power to change. We may even feel a sense of apprehension or doubt.

We might think…

  • “There’s nothing I can do about this situation.”
  • “It is what it is. I just need to suck it up and get over it.”
  • “What’s the point of making changes when it might not last?”

Courage to make changes comes when we recognize WHY change needs to be made in the first place. Perhaps change will bring about a more connected family, a more functional workplace, a happier you! When we recognize WHY change needs to happen, courage emerges and motivates us to make those changes.  

“… and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Isn’t it funny how we seem to try to change the things we cannot control and don’t change the things we can change? Why is that? I believe it’s because we do not have an adequate perspective of the situation. This is when we need to have a perspective check!

During our perspective check, we must take a step back and humbly ask ourselves, “What can I logistically do about this situation?” If the answer is “nothing”. Then we ask God to give us serenity and practice calming strategies to tell our brains and bodies that we are safe. If we determine that something can be done (no matter how small), we find our “WHY” and allow that to motivate us to make the necessary changes

If we are having a difficult time identifying the difference between what we can and cannot change, get another person’s perspective. Ask God, ask your spouse, ask a coworker, ask a friend, ask a counselor. Collaborate together to determine what step to take next. 

The next time that an event gets cancelled, a funeral is postponed, or work/school policies change for the hundredth time, remember the Serenity Prayer. Find serenity and peace in accepting what you can’t change. Be courageous and brave to change what you can. Approach each with wisdom and humility. You will be a better person for it. 


Serenity: Definition of Serenity by Oxford Dictionary on Lexico.com also meaning of Serenity. (n.d.). Retrieved August 07, 2020, from https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/serenity

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