“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
This well-known “Serenity Prayer” was what a friend chose to have tattooed on her shoulder. My first reaction was something like, “You put what? On where? Using WHAT????” Needles and I have a long-running love-hate relationship: I hate them, and they love to see me squirm. Naturally, I was curious as to what would possess a person to voluntarily have one stuck in their shoulder multiple times.
Turns out, she had dealt with great grief and suffering in her life, and this prayer had come to be not only a comfort but a guide to how she dealt with life: receiving wisdom from God to analyze her situations, serenity to accept the things that had happened to her, and courage to change how she dealt with them and approached the rest of her life. This prayer was so much a part of her that she wanted it permanently etched into her very flesh. While I don’t normally advocate tattoos (I mean, c’mon, who needs a skull in flames sitting permanently on their body which probably looked much better without it? There’s gotta be a better way to spend that money…), I could not help but feel great admiration and respect for this young woman.
This prayer has come, in the past few days, to touch me in a very deep way. It turns out that I have an inherited trait called Sensory-Processing Sensitivity, making me an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person…real original name, huh?). It affects about 15-20% of the population in varying degrees, and basically it means that my nervous system is incredibly sensitive and easily overwhelmed. On the pro side, it’s easy for me to enter deeply into the spiritual life, to appreciate beauty, and to pick up on the feelings of others. On the con side, I’m easily overwhelmed by crowds and over-stimulating environments, I’m hypercritical of myself, and, because of old insecurities, social situations are an ordeal for me.
Having only recently discovered this, I’ve dealt for my whole life with this without being able to name it, and thus unable to accept it without any amount of serenity. I always had a fear of fireworks, couldn’t connect well with guys (loud, rowdy, obnoxious guys were the only guys I knew), and never got why I couldn’t get into sports and preferred instead singing in a choir. Insecurity after insecurity built itself up within me, and all I could say with any certainty was that I was different, and the only word I knew for “different without a name” was “freak”.
I’ve always heard that the most relieving thing for a person dealing with psychological problems is to be able to put a name to it, and now I can say it’s totally true. It’s a little like dealing with temptation: once you can name your demons, you can combat them. The difference is that we’re dealing here not with demons, but with our own broken and beautiful humanity. When once we can look at our brokenness as God does–with great love–we find new meaning and purpose. I am not a freak; I am a man with both a gift and a cross, just like everyone else; mine just happen to be rolled up under one heading.
My prayer is that I may accept with serenity who I am, change with courage the way it has affected and will affect me, and know with wisdom which is which; to simultaneously love myself and make myself the best I can be, not so much for my sake but for His.
And my prayer for any who struggle in any way, especially those who are fellow HSP’s, is that you, too, may receive wisdom, courage, and serenity from the loving hands that first created you.