When to Make a Change, When to Let Go?

Eileen Flanagan

Eileen Flanagan is a leader in the Quaker community

When to change, when to let go?

It’s a profound question that each of us will be faced with countless times throughout our life.  Whether the question pertains to leaving a job, receiving cancer treatment, or another challenging decision, the best choice is not always clear.

The Wisdom to Know the Difference, When to Change – and When to Let Go, written by Eileen Flanagan – a leader in the Quaker community – explores this fundamental question from a diversity of angles.

This enlightening read is a rich guide to the essence of both personal growth and spiritual evolution, which – in a nutshell – is the magical dance between wholehearted surrender or full force change.

The Serenity Prayer

The Wisdom to Know the Difference is inspired by the deeply meaningful Serenity Prayer, which has been a source of refuge to millions during times of personal upheaval.  At the same time, the book draws upon the teachings of many faith traditions including Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity.  It also includes knowledge garnered from the field of psychology and programs like Alcoholics Anonymous.

Here is the most famous version of the Serenity Prayer:

“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.”

People often feel stuck with their lot in life.  Flanagan argues that it’s crucial to distinguish between letter go and giving up.  She says:

“On the one hand, this book rejects the idea that God decided your lot in life long ago, so if your are poor, or sick, or in a bad marriage, it is because ‘you were put on this earth to suffer’… That theology may lead to surrender, but not serenity.”

“On the other hand, this book also rejects the recently popular pseudo-spirituality that claims that the universe is a vending machine at your command and you can have whatever you want if you just visualize it, an approach that tends to focus people on their material wants rather than on wisdom.”

7 Spiritual Principles to Help You Live Fearlessly

Change?  Surrender?  What to do?  How do you know?

The Wisdom to Know the Difference offers 7 different but interconnected approaches to help you decided, each one the focus for a full chapter.  Flanagan calls them  “7 spiritual lessons to help you live fearlessly.”

  1. The Courage to Question
  2. Knowing Yourself
  3. Seeking Divine Wisdom
  4. Shifting Your Perspective
  5. Practicing Loving Acceptance
  6. Letting Go of Outcomes
  7. Finding Wisdom in Community

The book offers a wealth of personal stories to illustrate how real people – like you and me – employed these seven strategies to find clarity in the midst of difficult.  At the same time, it draws upon the spiritual wisdom of the ages.  Each chapter ends with a series of “queries” – thought-provoking reflections – to help you access your own inner spring of wisdom.

The Wisdom to Know the Difference is truly a treasure trove of deep and transformative wisdom. Chances are you will want to sip and savor each chapter to allow its clarity, beauty, and wisdom to deeply penetrate your mind, heart, and soul.  On the other hand, a particular theme might just call to you and be your perfect starting part.

I know you will find so much courage and guidance in the many real-life stories contained in this book.  They are like blueprints for navigating change and surrender.  Witnessing someone else’s courage can give you exactly the impetus you need to change or surrender yourself.

A Taste of Wisdom

This book is so replete with inspiration, ideas,  stories, and practical wisdom that I find it impossible to cover the full territory in a short book review.  So, I thought I would share 12 inspirational quotes gathered from among the pages to give you a taste of The Wisdom to Know the Difference.

  • “When I talk about changing your mind, it is not to become someone different from who you really are.  It is to strip away the socially conditioned, limited thoughts of the False Self to discover the person you were made to be, focusing on your deep joy instead of your superficial wants or fears.”
  • “Accepting yourself, faults included, is a pre-requisite to wisdom.”
  • “Self-discovery is a life-long process.”
  • “Listening within is crucial to accessing wisdom.”
  • “Excessive business can also lead to stress and anxiety, known to make inward listening more difficult.”
  • “Our thoughts are powerful, but part of the reason they are so powerful is that they often determine our actions.”
  • “The people in our lives can often help us develop self-knowledge, reflecting our strengths and weaknesses to us like a mirror.  We do not need to believe everything everyone tells us, but we should be open to the possibility that others see things about us that we don’t.”
  • “Divine guidance is not always so rapid or clear.  Many people experience it as more of a gradual dawning, like a sunrise rather than a lightening bolt.”
  • “There are some things that should be changed, only not by us.  Part of wisdom is figuring out which problems are ours to solve.”
  • “Whenever God closes a door, somewhere he opens a window.”  (from the Sound of Music)
  • “The trick is to acknowledge anger, without getting stuck in blame, which is disempowering, rather than empowering.  Only when you have acknowledged your anger can you discern whether it is a sign that you need to change something or accept what cannot be changed.”
  • “So how do you let go of fear and cultivate trust?  Trust does not always come in a dramatic spiritual insight.  Sometimes it grows gradually, as we nervously take each step.”

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of reading The Wisdom to Know the Difference. Eileen Flanagan clearly has a huge heart and a profoundly reflective mind.  This is a book I will want to return to again and again. I see how it could easily become a wise spiritual companion for an entire lifetime.

You can learn more about Eileen Flanagan by visiting Eileen Flanagan (dot) com.

Thank you to  TLC Book Tours for the invitation to write this review.  Note:  None of the links in this article is an affiliate link.

How do you discern when to make a change, when to surrender?

Thanks for reading. If you liked this article, please share the link with your friends.  Thanks so much! Sandra

Comments

  1. says

    Sandra,

    I’ll be posting this link on my tweets. The excerpts from this book really resonate; the New Age “pseudo-spirituality” that posits that the universe is some type of “vending machine” to achieve material abundance and the perfect soulmate really seems like magic without the ritual. Can one bend the universe–and others’ wills–to achieve material gain? At any rate, this notion is the opposite of what all the great spiritual teachers–Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tsu, and others–have preached throughout history. This type of shallow thinking only feeds the ego and creates endless attachments.

    • says

      Thanks, Bob. I used that quote in particular because it raises an approach that I often wonder about. I believe the mind is powerful, indeed but that cause and effect are more complex than the law of attraction alone. The law of attraction contains some good elements, but – in my view – it’s not complete. At the same time, I feel any attempt to cultivate positive spiritual qualities like kindness, love, compassion, and tolerance, should be applauded. It can sometimes be difficult to discern what is “pseudo-spirituality.” There can be a high degree of “spiritual materialism” whatever our approach – traditional or new age. In my mind, so much depends upon motivation, attachment, and ego. Thanks for sharing your perspective. I appreciate your deep thinking.

  2. says

    Yet another book to put on the to-read list… Here are the two quotes that most resonate with me:

    “Accepting yourself, faults included, is a pre-requisite to wisdom.” AND “Our thoughts are powerful, but part of the reason they are so powerful is that they often determine our actions.”

    To me, that speaks squarely to why we should not be so quick to judge ourselves in times of trial. We lose control of the moment, let those thoughts over-ride our brain and before long, you’re beating yourself up for some action — big or small — you regret. While sounding hoaky at times, there is something to be said for marrying mindfulness with positivity.

    Thanks for sharing. Be well!

    • says

      Hi Bill,

      As I was reading your comment, I thought, “It all comes down to mindfulness, doesn’t it?” Even better is your suggestion of the marriage between mindfulness and positivity. I agree – beating ourselves up doesn’t help at all! I love your solution. Thank you so much for highlight your favorites quotes and why they resonate for you.

    • says

      Hi Eileen,

      Thanks so much for dropping by! I have a feeling your book will resonate with many people. The depth of your spirituality shines through your words. Wishing you a beautiful year. May your book touch the hearts and minds of many.

  3. says

    Hi Sandra,

    I love this thought provoking article!

    Knowing when to change and when to let go is one of the most profound and fundamental questions of life. If we do not act in accord with the times, we could end up creating lots of problems for ourselves.

    From what you have shared about Eileen Flanagan’s “The Wisdom to Know the Difference” it is clear that the author has a lot of wisdom to share. I like how she rejects the idea that God has decided your lot in life as well as the universe being a vending machine at our command. Only if we have true wisdom and act in accord with the times can we hope to find serenity in our lives.

    The inspirational quotes you have shared are well chosen. Here are my thoughts on some of them.

    “Divine guidance is not always so rapid or clear. Many people experience it as more of a gradual dawning, like a sunrise rather than a lightening bolt.”

    This has been my personal experience. Often I have mulled over the lessons or the message that the universe has for me. But it is only when I have gained sufficient experience through trials and tribulations does the path and the lesson become clear for me. Before that time, I do not have sufficient foundation for understanding.

    “The people in our lives can often help us develop self-knowledge, reflecting our strengths and weaknesses to us like a mirror. We do not need to believe everything everyone tells us, but we should be open to the possibility that others see things about us that we don’t.”

    This has been a very important lesson that I learned over the years. I have always listened to others because of a lack of self-confidence. But blindly following advice is not always wise because I do not think or discern for myself. Sometimes people may not have my best interests at heart. Other times, even if they have my best interests at heart, what they suggest might not be best for me. I believe in listening to advice because there might be valuable suggestions that I might have overlooked. The only difference today is that I make it a point to think for myself and make up my own mind.

    Thank you for sharing with us about “The Wisdom to Know the Difference.” I am always on the lookout for books of wisdom and this seems to be one book that is worth exploring so that I can understand the world and my role in it better.

    Irving aka the Vizier

    • says

      Hi Irving,

      You always contribute so much when you leave a comment. Thank you!

      I find your emphasis on “acting in accord with our times” of interest. I’m not exactly sure what you mean by that. I will have to poke around your site for some clues.

      What you said here is so key: “But it is only when I have gained sufficient experience through trials and tribulations does the path and the lesson become clear for me.” The personal growth does involved trials and tribulations. It’s so important to recognize that. It’s not all love and light. I’m so glad you added this point.

      Discernment is incredibly important when we listen to others. I’m glad you’ve gained so much experience in this realm over the years.

      I’m happy you enjoyed this article. Thanks for your comment.

      • says

        Hi Sandra,

        I apologize for not being clearer. When I say acting in accord with the times, I mean acting according to the Tao or the Way. There will always be certain actions in certain situations that are better than others. When we follow these actions, we will be like an unstoppable force. But if we do not follow these actions, things will be very difficult for us. Following the Tao is not always the easiest thing to do. By default most of us will just take the path of least resistance and do the easy thing. But the easy thing is not always the right or the beneficial thing.

        A simple example. If we want to live healthy lives, we have to eat right and get lots of exercise and so on. To me this is in accord with the way our bodies were meant to be used. But such a path is not easy to follow even though it is beneficial. Yet if we took the easy way out, problems and health complications await us many years down the road. Such are the laws of life.

        • says

          Thanks for the clarification. This makes it crystal clear. I agree with acting in accord with the Tao and the natural order of things. Although – as you point out – that’s not always easy or perhaps we just think it isn’t. Many thanks for the addition.

  4. says

    Ooohh! Sounds great…another one to add to the stack! I love this analogy:

    “On the other hand, this book also rejects the recently popular pseudo-spirituality that claims that the universe is a vending machine at your command and you can have whatever you want if you just visualize it, an approach that tends to focus people on their material wants rather than on wisdom.”

    I often struggle with knowing the difference between standing for something and asserting myself and when to let go and just accept what is. For me, I currently judge this by how it feels and resonates with me, but it is a very uncertain line which can move by the minute.

    I look forward to reading this and gaining some guidance. Thanks for sharing!

    • says

      Hi Debbie,

      The vending machine analogy seems to be striking a chord with many of us today!

      There are stories in Eileen’s book that speak to the question you raise – when to stand up for something and when to let go and accept what is. I really liked the one quote on this topic above ~

      “There are some things that should be changed, only not by us. Part of wisdom is figuring out which problems are ours to solve.”

      I’m a problem solver by nature. It’s taken me a long time to learn that I can’t solve all the problems of the world and, often, it’s not the best medicine to try to solve other people’s problems. People need their challenges for their own growth and growth often comes best when you wrestle with your challenges. That’s not to say we shouldn’t care or try to help by any means. Your approach of tuning into your self is an important way to access inner guidance and discern the right response for you. Maybe it’s OK that the line is always changing because we too are always changing moment by moment.

      I really appreciated hearing your thoughts on this particular challenge. Thank you so much!

  5. RichHartford says

    Hello Sandra and Eileen,

    This is a wonderful article. It really helped a lot especially on people like me who are about to make life-changing decisions next year. These are decisions that takes risk and it may cause success and failure in our lives. All the good points have been said in it.I admire the inclusion of the spiritual aspect in making them as well as how to increase our wisdom in life.

    By the way,I would just like to point out something about the times when arriving at those decisions and as we take actions in following them.

    Society has thought us that decisions should be made instant.Aside from that, we also have to consider all the possibilities on how it affects our life in the process. But there is one truth that people have to consider when making decisions. That is,”People cannot plan the results of the decisions we make.” That is why it is important to always carefully assess the results of the path that we take in our lives and how it affects us. I believe that results mean everything as it
    is the most significant determinant of whether we are making the correct decision or not as well as if we want to live our life the way we want it to be or not.

    Added to that,we must realize that people are creations and not creators. God or the universe (whichever you prefer) is the master planner of the earth and the people of this world. Results gives us wisdom of the things we can control and what we cannot control in our life. In summary, constantly evaluating the results of the decision we make will create a big difference in our lives.

    Happy holidays!!!!

    Regards,
    Rich

    • says

      Hi Rich,

      This is very sage advice! It’s so important to reflect deeply and look ahead at what the consequences of our actions and decisions might be. It’s always helpful to try to begin with a positive motivation – then it’s more likely that our results will be positive too. Sometimes, we will err, but we can learn from our mistakes.

      You also make a good point on how societal forces bring pressure to make decisions in an instant. It’s not easy to slow down and take one’s time when everyone seems to be driving in the fast lane of life. I really appreciate all the readers here who value are deeper and more conscious approach to living and writers like Eileen that inspires to action rooted in thoughtful reflection.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

  6. galenpearl says

    Although most people reading this post would think in terms of individual discernment, the first thing that struck me was how applicable it is to group discernment. No doubt, the reason for that connection is that I am presently deep in the process of group discernment as a member of the pastor search committee for my church.

    Once before, I was on the search committee for the executive director of a nonprofit of which I am a board member. We were guided in the process by an excellent consultant and chose an amazing person. However, it lacked the component of spiritual discernment with which my church committee is charged.

    I have found this process of group spiritual discernment over the last months to be a faith awakening and faith deepening experience. When we find ourselves getting anxious, confused, frustrated, or fatigued, we recognize that we have lost our wisdom to know the difference. We have come back to the principles of this prayer so many times! And when we do, calm is restored, trust is enlivened (as fear fades), and confidence manifests that we will find the right person at the right time.

    You chose some inspiring quotes indeed, which I will share with my committee. Thanks to you, Eileen, for writing a book I’m going to order right now, and to you, Sandra, for calling it to our attention and putting it in the context of your own wisdom!

    • says

      Galen,

      What an inspiring and remarkable process. There is amplified power in group prayer. I loved how the Serenity Prayer has infused the process with meaning: “When we find ourselves getting anxious, confused, frustrated, or fatigued, we recognize that we have lost our wisdom to know the difference. We have come back to the principles of this prayer so many times! And when we do, calm is restored, trust is enlivened (as fear fades), and confidence manifests that we will find the right person at the right time.” Thanks for sharing this. It is very meaningful indeed!

  7. says

    What a rich discussion! Yes, there are lots of reasons to be patient with discernment–especially group discernment, where it usually takes time for people to work though their individual preferences or issues to find a deeper unifying truth. (I’m a Quaker, and we make all our business decisions through corporate discernment, or at least we aim to.) I also think taking time is helpful in sifting through culturally imbedded messages, like “Of course, I should take the better paying job,” or “It’s time I settled down and get married.” We need patience to sift through those assumptions and see if they really hold true for us or if they are just messages we’ve absorbed from the culture.

    • says

      Eileen, It’s so wonderful to have you participate in the discussion. Thanks so much. I’m fortunate to have the most amazing readers and commenters, which makes for very rich discussion indeed. I appreciated the sections of your book that help us sift through the cultural pulls and do what’s right for us.

  8. says

    Wow, this review really impressed and resonated with me Sandra and Eileen. I particlulary loved your quote:

    “Divine guidance is not always so rapid or clear. Many people experience it as more of a gradual dawning, like a sunrise rather than a lightening bolt.”

    Isn’t that the truth!! ‘Sunrise’ it is….

    Thanks for the great read. :-)

  9. says

    Hi Marcus,

    The sunrise is a beautiful metaphor, indeed. I’m so happy these profound thoughts have resonated so strongly with you. Wishing you a wonderful holiday and new year.

  10. says

    Sandra,
    This book sounds wonderful!

    …the wisdom to know the difference…such a wonderful line in the serenity prayer. And, I believe it touches upon what we know inside already – it’s just a matter of going there and finding these answers that are there…

    And I completely LOVE that first inspirational quote you have shared above – stripping away the social conditioning we have, to get to who we really are – what a gift that is…

    Sandra – your words here always reach to my soul. Much peace and love to you during the holiday season…and always…

    • says

      Lance,

      I really appreciate your emphasis on “what we know inside already.” So true isn’t it? Happiness and wisdom ultimately can only be found within.

      Eileen speaks to this question of peeling away the social conditioning so beautifully. I thank her for the gift of these words.

      Lance, you always touch my heart. I thank you for that and wish you a beautiful holiday too.

  11. says

    We do not need to believe everything everyone tells us, but we should be open to the possibility that others see things about us that we don’t.”

    Oh yes, people are always seeing things about me that I don’t. I’m not sure that it means it’s true. If someone sees something about me isn’t it their projection good or bad. I like books that me think.

    Thanks for the great review. The book sounds fluff-free;)

    • says

      That’s an interesting question, Tess. I think it’s a question of whether we have pure or impure vision. If our vision is impure, then it probably is a projection. If it’s pure, then we see the divinity within everyone. It’s their perception, but is it always a projection? Often, but not necessarily always. Very interesting question, for sure.

  12. says

    Sandra,

    Thanks for this review. I just put in a request for this book at the library.

    This is my favorite quote: “When I talk about changing your mind, it is not to become someone different from who you really are. It is to strip away the socially conditioned, limited thoughts of the False Self to discover the person you were made to be, focusing on your deep joy instead of your superficial wants or fears.”

    I totally agree with this and am working on it myself, exploring the ways we become covered/buried/layered under societal expectations and lose sight of our true selves. I’m fascinated by the process of becoming that person again, how people do it. That’s partly why I put together the Moment of Clarity series on my blog, finding that moment when a person decides to put aside the false self and recommit to who they were really “made to be.” Love that concept.

    Linda

    • says

      Linda,

      I always love to when people say they are requesting a book from their library. Way to go! It’s a wonderful way to contribute to a greener planet.

      That is a powerful quote and one of my favorites too. The way you are working with unpeeling, finding your true self, and writing about it on your blog is inspiring indeed. I love the title “moment of clarity.” May you have many moments of clarity all strung together until it’s your constant experience!

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.

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