“What is it then to be properly educated? It is learning… to separate the things that lie within our power from those that don’t.” — Epictetus, Greek philosopher
“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.” — Reinhold Neibuhr, American theologian
These two wise men, separated by 2000 years of time, give us the same advice: that a key to life is to know where to draw the line between the things we can and need to act upon, and the things that we need not.
When you think about it, knowing where to draw the line is truly a fundamental skill to a successful life. Looking at a situation and deciding, “that is not within my power to change and I will let it pass by me” versus “that is within my power to change and I will devote all my energy and influence and action to change it.”
If you decide “oh, that’s just the way it is, I can’t change it” on everything (even the things you should be changing) you will end up leading a small, weak life. But if you decide “I don’t like that, I’m going to change it” on every single situation in your life, you will become overwhelmed, scattered and almost certainly disliked by everyone around you.
I think it’s one of the great wonders and mysteries of God that He gives us this life in which we are free to do and change anything we want, but then He also gives us the freedom to learn how to choose to exercise our will and energies.
Today, as you encounter situations, make a conscious effort to draw your line– instead of just reacting with an immediate “Yes” or “No.” That difficult conversation that could end (or save) a friendship— is it within my power to change this situation, or should I let the other person keep taking the course they have chosen? That person who cut me off in traffic– is it worth my while to get angry at them, or do I let it go? That man in the restaurant who is being taunted or insulted because of how he looks– do I allow him to defend (or not defend) himself or do I step in?
Sometimes it’s relatively easy to know where to draw your line, and other times it’s a harder call. But it’s always our call to make, so let’s think it through each time we are called to make a decision, and draw our lines well.