Control vs. Acceptance


Control is a good thing. It keeps my car on the winding mountain roads, not off in the ditch. It helps me to manage my anger instead of let it explode.

Early in the creation story, we are called to “exercise dominion,” which means that I am to have a certain amount of control. I choose my career and where to work. I choose my wife. I choose my church. I choose how to treat my body.

But … there also is a lot that I do not control. I would love to see my son move into a different line of work. But that’s his domain, not mine. I would like to see my boss do his job differently. But that is his realm, not mine. I lose so much peace and energy by trying to control what is not in my domain. This well-known prayer, made famous by 12-step groups, helps me:

God, grant me the serenity

To accept the things that I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can

And wisdom to know the difference.

I love the balance and wisdom of this prayer. Peace in accepting what is not in my realm to change. I cannot change my children or my boss. If I kept trying, it would lead to enormous frustration and a lack of serenity. For me and for them.

Because I am made to exercise dominion, I can and want to control and slide into wanting to control what is not mine to change. This aphorism heard years ago alerts me to my controlling nature: “If you say something more than once, you’re trying to control.” More than once I have brought up my son’s debt. I’m trying to control his financial priorities. More than once I have spoken about my dislike of our work schedule — my manager feels my effort to control and doesn’t like it.

But I am not a victim. I have power to change some things, but change even in my realm takes great courage. I am thinking of working less. This is a change I can make, but I feel anxious about doing so. Courage to change. I want to get more training for the men’s work that I do, but this will take time and money. Courage to change.

Interestingly, there is more to this beautiful “serenity prayer,” written (we think) by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. The rest of his prayer is not known because the 12 step groups steer away from these lines which allude to Jesus:

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

Whereas the opening lines call us to change what we can, the tenor of these closing lines is surrender. Niebuhr’s prayer invites peaceful acceptance of what each day brings, treasuring each moment instead of straining to change my reality. In my youth, I was furious with my two alcoholic parents — they made our lives really hard. I could not accept it,  nor could I change it. Now I know that hardship is normal in human life but still need prayer to accept hardship so that I might experience peace.

Jesus changed what he was called to change — a blind man’s view of the world, Matthew the tax collector’s purpose in life, a thief’s eternal destiny, the final sacrifice for sin. Knowing and accepting earth’s brokenness, Jesus still came and walked here for 33 years.

This prayer closes with two matters of faith which help me accept rather than control. Both personally and globally, I believe that God will ultimately make all things right. Finishing a book about General Eisenhower and World War II, I felt grateful that the Allies prevailed, that an imperfect justice won out.

And I treasure the realism and hope of the closing thought, not perfectly happy in this life, which I foolishly think I might gain if I could have my way everywhere but reasonably happy. Even if my grown children don’t do what I think they should, I can be reasonably happy with them. And despite my struggles with management, I am far more than reasonably happy in my work as a hospital chaplain. And my reasonable happiness here is bolstered with the confidence that there is a next life where happiness is perfect, no more tears or dark nights, things so perfect that my need to control is finally shelved.


  • As a man, where are you not “controlling” things that are yours to control?
  • Where are you losing peace by trying to be god by controlling what is not yours to control?
  • In your realm, what do you want to change? What courage will this take?

By John Casey

John completed his initial Crucible weekend in 2005, is a graduate of our two-year transformational program and is a weekend leader for The Crucible Project. He enjoys writing about authentic living for men. As a senior pastor for 32 years, he has written and preached hundreds of sermons on God’s character and mission, our purpose and mission, spiritual transformation and effective relationships.

Photo Credit: Beth Scupham via Creative Commons