Connections 07.16.2023: Changing the Things We Can

Genesis 25:19-34

“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.”

(Reinhold Niebuhr, maybe. See

This simple sentiment known as the Serenity Prayer shows up on greeting cards, inspirational posters, and is a mainstay of substance-abuse recovery programs. According to Wikipedia, its origin and author are disputed, but surely the applicability of its message is undisputed. Nearly all of us, nearly every day, face situations we must accept and situations we could affect. Nearly all of us, nearly every day, hope for the wisdom to figure out which is which.

The Bible is full of stories of people who grapple with this reality, whether they know it or not. They learn to trust God in times when a situation “is what it is,” and they learn to recognize when to take up their part in God’s work to change themselves and the world.

In Genesis 25:19-23, Abraham’s grandsons Jacob and Esau are about to be born. These twins will bring a lifetime of soap-opera-level drama to the family story, and the drama begins even before they are born. Their mother Rebekah feels like she is being torn apart by this pregnancy. She would rather die than keep suffering like this, so she goes to God for help. God’s reply does not ease her pain but explains it: the two boys in her womb are already what they will always be, two warring nations (25:23). Rebekah, apparently, must accept what she cannot change.

Verses 24 through 27 describe Rebekah’s delivery and the appearances and personality types of her sons as if to confirm what seems inevitable: they are drastically different, incompatible, conflicted in every way. But verse 28 introduces an outside factor in the boys’ struggle: Isaac loved Esau, and Rebekah loved Jacob. We will never know how much parental favoritism increased the strife between the brothers, just as we never know the exact impact of nature and nurture (or lack thereof) in our own lives. But perhaps this story is a case study of the fine line of wisdom between “accepting what we cannot change” and “changing the things we can.” Rebekah might serenely accept the painful conditions of her pregnancy, but did she and Isaac have the courage to change their parenting? Did they even have the wisdom to know they could?


  • Look carefully at this story and notice all the times when someone “accepts the things they cannot change” and when someone has “courage to change the things they can.” Can you recognize the wisdom in these instances?
  • Rebekah’s first instinct is to change something she thinks she can: she goes to God in hopes of changing the painfulness of her pregnancy. When have you trusted God to change your circumstances? What was the outcome? How does trusting God require courage?
  • Rebekah and Isaac could have parented their children more fairly and perhaps lessened the strife between their sons. Do you think God’s word to Rebekah that “two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided” was going to happen no matter what?
  • Have you ever not acted to change something because you believed you needed to accept God’s plan, however painful or difficult it might be?
  • How do we know when to accept a situation for what it is, and when to make choices in hopes of changing a situation?
  • When have you been in a painful circumstance that seemed inevitable? Did you find serenity to accept it or courage to make a change? How did you find the wisdom to know what to do? How much more difficult is this when we believe that God has allowed (or created, or called us to) a particular situation?

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary, and as a military spouse has had nine (at last count) different hometowns in the past 20 years. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in the Washington D.C. area. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at


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