We say the Serenity Prayer every Sunday, but I wonder how many of us have thought about what it really means
- or where it came from.
So for the next few weeks, we are going to delve into the history and meaning of the prayer, what it tells us about our daily lives.
The Serenity Prayer was first used by a famous theologian in a sermon in 1943, but was actually written in the 18th century. What we say is just a small part of the original prayer. The rest of the prayer goes like this:
- 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.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
The Serenity Prayer is the most popular prayer said around the world. The part that we say has been adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous as their meditation and prayer. But there are many other different versions modified to meet the needs of those praying it.
The purpose of the Serenity Prayer is to bring peace, faith, and certainty to the mind and heart of those seeking God’s support. It asks God for the wisdom and ability to accept “what is,” (what cannot be changed) and for the willingness to change the things which can be changed, and the ability to know which is which.
The Serenity Prayer acknowledges that if one seeks true peace and happiness in this life, it is important to consciously live and enjoy one’s life in each moment; embrace one’s struggles and challenges; accept the world as it is, not as we would like it to be; and trust in God and His will for us.
GOD GRANT ME SERENITY
Today we are going to look at the first line:
- God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.
First, we are asking God to help us; we are saying that we believe that He can, through His love for us, help us find what we seek and what we need. In Philippians 4:7 we are told:
the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts and minds
Until we let the ‘peace of God’ enter into our mind, heart, and soul, we will never experience that ultimate peace that enables us to live in the most severe circumstances of life with calm and joy.
It acknowledges that God can ‘GRANT’ or give us what we ask as is best for us. We are His children and He wants the best for us.
We each are asking for ourselves (‘ME’), not for anyone else. We each are a unique expression of God; we have to live with God as our companion, living within us. We are given, by God, eternal love if we only ask. We are asking that God help us to find inner peace and serenity. We sometimes forget, the only person we can influence and control is ‘me’. We cannot encourage others to change if we ourselves have not changed; we must give out love to receive love, peace to be peaceful.
Then there is ‘SERENITY’. This is not a word we commonly use. The dictionary says serenity is:
- being in the current reality, not fighting reality with illusions of how things should or should not be 1
Serenity is not a ‘devil may care’ attitude in which we are not concerned about anything – that state of denial where we live like nothing matters. Serenity is accepting the world as it is and being at peace with that.
When we are angry or resentful, blaming others for what is happening to us, this destroys the serenity we are asking God to help us find. We must breathe deeply in the here and now to be aware of the world . . . and aware that God is taking care of us.
We ask God to help us
ACCEPT THE THINGS I CANNOT CHANGE.
There are lots of things in this world that we have no control over; we all know that. We can’t do anything about the weather. We have very little control over the government, laws we have to live under, or taxes.
We cannot do anything about what has happened in the past. What is done is done and nothing is going to change that. When we dwell on what our childhood was like, or what our boss did to us or the way the system screwed us over, we are destroying our serenity over something that we can do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about.
No matter how hard we try, we cannot control our addictions; alcoholism, drugs, sex, overeating, gambling. We can sometimes manage them with help, but for those of us afflicted with any type of addiction, they will always be with us, lurking around the corner, ready to trip us up again. We have to acknowledge or ‘ACCEPT’ them as part of our life.
We may be angry about the circumstances of our birth, being born into poverty, being born gay, our skin color. There are things that may trouble us, get us frustrated and depressed, make us worry and destroy our serenity. We cannot change the things in the past! If we put out negative vibes or anger or hatred, we are only get those things back, often doubled. But if we send out love and understanding, we will get that back – and will find peace. We must try to live in this moment – right now: we are here out of the weather, have a community who cares, and have food. That, although there are adversities, we are loved, not only by God, but also by others.
There are situations with those we love or work with that irritate us. We cannot change their behavior, we can only change our reaction to them. To stop worrying and fretting, we need to ‘ACCEPT THE THINGS I CANNOT CHANGE’ and accept people the way they are. We need to enjoy the moment we are in – this very moment.
So with me, I urge you to close your eyes, take 3 long deep breaths, and know the serenity of God can be and is in YOU!!
Now, open your eyes, smile and say ‘God Loves You’ to those around you.
As we go through this week, notice those things that we dwell on which disturb our serenity.
- Get rid of the anger, hatred and disappointment –
remember that we are loved by God.
And find a way to dwell in the here-and-now, reveling in those things that bring us happiness and peace.
THE COURAGE TO CHANGE THE THINGS WE CAN
Last week we talked a great deal about the first line of the Serenity Prayer, which we say every Sunday:
- God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
This week we are going to explore the next line from the prayer:
- the courage to change the things I can
Change is a terrifying thing – I don’t know too many people who openly and whole-heartedly welcome change. Change brings with it apprehension, uncertainty, hostility, bitterness and fear. Change means that some old ways are abandoned and replaced by the unknown, the unfamiliar. Even if things aren’t working well as they are, we still often resist and reject making changes. Even if we are miserable, some people say:
- “better the devil we know than the one we don’t”
Is it really better to continue behaviors, relationship or actions that are destroying ourselves and those around us?
Is it really better to continue in our comfortable, destruction behaviors, even if they are leading us nowhere and disappointing everyone we know than to try to change?
These changes are the things that take courage.
Courage is being afraid and going ahead anyway (Dan Rather)
Courage is facing difficulty, danger, and pain in spite of fear.
Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear (Ambrose Redmoon)
Courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow (Mary Anne Radmacher)
Resistance to change comes from a fear of the unknown and a fear of failure. Even if we think the change will make things better, change can be disturbing.
But change is inevitable. NOTHING is going to stay the same as it is this moment. Perhaps you have heard the saying
- “The only thing that is constant is change”.
And that is so true.
So the real wisdom of our prayer is to see the difference between the things we can change and those we can’t. And then, with God’s help, find within ourselves the courage and determination to change things we can change. . . and to change them for the better.
Last week we defined things we cannot change:
- the way we look,
the family we are born into, and
things that happened to us in the past. Maybe it was the way our parents treated us, maybe it was violent habits we learned, the fact that someone got us addicted to a substance, the fact that we made a bad decision and there was no one to help us make it right.
But that is all in the past. We are who we are. We have the life we have lived to this moment, and we can’t change that.
But what can be changed?
What can be changed is OURSELVES!
We have to change how we look at ourselves and our attitudes toward other people.
Jesus came into the world with a story to tell, and that story was that each of us is important, each of us matters, and each of us is loved thoroughly and unconditionally by the one who created us. This is the good news – that we are all equal in the sight of God, that we will all live in Paradise as brothers and sisters, and that because God loves us, we must love each other.
Jesus taught us that we are in this world, in this lifetime to spread that love to others, to love others unconditionally as we are loved. He said over and over again that we are children of a living God, and that we are here to support each other, strengthen each other and be living examples of the strength, the power and the goodness of love.
The most courageous thing we can do in changing ourselves is to see ourselves fully every day as this loved and loving child of God. For only if we have the courage to accept this great truth, that we will be able to change for the good ourselves, our attitudes toward others, and the way we function in the world.
We must never, ever again say to ourselves
- “I don’t count”,
“I don’t care what happens to me or to other people”.
We must never say to ourselves
- “what I think is not important”
“what I do doesn’t matter”.
We must never believe that we are trapped and caught, and can’t break our habits of violence or addiction or anger.
We must never use demeaning words and names to describe ourselves or others. We are all beloved children of God. We must believe, with courage, that we are loved and have love to give, that we deserve happiness, and that, perhaps, we can give happiness to those around us.
We must constantly surround ourselves with people who lift us up, love us back, and bring out the good in us. And we must have the courage to stay away from people who pull us down, make us think negative thoughts, and lead us into destructive behaviors.
God does not want this for His children and we are beloved sons and daughters of God.
As difficult as these changes seem, with courage we can change them overnight.
- We can decide to wake up in the morning and say “thanks God for another day of living. I am going to make this a great day”.
We can determine that this day we are going to be with people who are happy and make us happy. People who love God and help each other.
We can decide that this day we are going to smile at people, compliment people, thank them.
If someone tries to rub us the wrong way and get us into an argument, we can stop, count to ten, and determine that we will not respond to them with meanness, but we will turn the other cheek and walk away. We can feel sorry for them in a way, because clearly, they don’t know that God loves them.
After a few days of doing this, we will find that we draw to ourselves more and more people who support us as a good person. If we have courage to look at people as if they are good and loving children of God, we will get that same treatment back.
Each day that we work hard to improve ourselves will be a day that we will have grown courageously into the best person we can be. Rather than thinking of the things we have done wrong, the things we wish we could change, make a list of the things we have done right, the people we have helped, the positive and good thing about ourselves.
Positive and loving behavior will rapidly build within us the strength and courage we need to bring about any changes in our life we seek:
A better place to live
Good outcomes for our children and our family.
Love creates love; goodness creates goodness. Forgiveness means you will be forgiven.
We will probably make mistakes, backslide, do or say things that were ’the old us’ but we can quickly turn it around, asking God to forgive us, asking forgiveness from those we have harmed, and shift back into that ‘good, positive, loving person God created us to be.
We cannot encourage others to change if we ourselves have not changed; we must give out love to receive love, practice peace to be peaceful.
It takes courage, it takes determination, it takes accepting one simple fact – God loves us and wants us to be happy.
As we go through this next week,
- notice those things that we don’t like. . .
that we can change . . .
and get busy changing them!
Get rid of all the negatives: anger, hatred, disappointment, fear.
And remember that we are beloved sons and daughters of God.
Live each day as fully as possible and revel in those things that bring us and others happiness and peace.
THE WISDOM TO KNOW THE DIFFERENCE
For the last two week we have talked a great deal about the prayer we say every Sunday that has come to be called the Serenity Prayer:
- God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can
This week brings us to the last line of that prayer:
And the wisdom to know the difference.
SERENITY. . .
COURAGE . . .
We have talked about how one has to find ‘SERENITY’ – peace (‘serenity’ is another word of peace) – find the inner peace to accept things we cannot change, and to quit trying to fight battles that are not under our control.
- Whether it is our age or appearance, or what has been done by others in the past – let it go!
It is as it is, it is the hand we have been dealt – move on!
Realize that God does not make junk and we are as we were created by Him.
We talked about living in the present and letting God be in control.
We then explored the ‘COURAGE’ it often takes to change the things WE CAN CHANGE. These things mostly have to do with ourselves and how we face each day, our attitudes and actions – and how very important it is to realize that we are the beloved children of God, and brothers and sisters to the most perfect man who ever lived, Jesus Christ – If we seek to treat ourselves and others with love, respect, kindness, and compassion as Jesus taught us, we will be loved, respected and treated well in return.
If we radiate joyfulness, acceptance, and forgiveness, we will receive these things in return. And not only will we be changed, but everyone around us will be as well.
We were reminded to surround ourselves with people who bring positive values and attitudes into the world. And that it takes real courage and risk, to change friends and associates, work habits, addictions, to
do unto others as you would have them do unto you. (Luke 6:31)
So today we see that our Serenity Prayer ends by asking for
THE WISDOM TO KNOW THE DIFFERENCE
– to be able to choose the things we can change and to act on those and to not fret, worry or waste time trying to change things we cannot.
We pray for wisdom . . ., not answers. . ., not a crystal ball or magic wand – but
Most people think wisdom is intelligence, being smart and knowing lots of facts and information. And while that may be part of it, that really isn’t ‘it’.
The dictionary defines WISDOM as:
- good sense: the ability to make sensible decisions and judgments based on personal knowledge and experience
knowing how to determine what is right and what is wrong.
The Bible defines wisdom as:
- showing respect for God by reading and obeying His Word;
sound judgment, based on knowledge and understanding;
the ability to use knowledge and understanding successfully to solve problems, avoid or avert dangers, attain certain goals, or counsel others in doing so.
We see that both definitions seem to be based on ‘knowledge’. Knowledge is defined as:
- the accumulation of facts and data that you have learned about or experienced. It’s being aware of something, and having information, facts and ideas acquired through study, research, investigation, observation, or experience.
Based on both the dictionary and Bible definitions, we must first gain knowledge about something before we will possess the wisdom to make good decisions.
But knowledge isn’t wisdom.
I have known lots of highly–educated people with lots of degrees and titles who can quote everything from scripture to Socrates, but haven’t got enough sense to get out of the rain. We have heard stories that Albert Einstein often forgot to put on his trousers before he left the house. And I have also known folks with very little formal education who have a sense of reality, of self-understanding and how the world works that is astounding. And it is usually based on knowledge, honed and tempered by experience, observation, and deep identification with what it means to be a human being.
And those people are wise.
We see in the last line, our prayer asks for
- the wisdom to know the difference
to be able to distinguish between what we can control and what we cannot. When we truly ACCEPT the fact that we are not in control of certain things and God is, we can find peace and SERENITY. And if we COURAGEOUSLY CHANGE those things under our control, we can also find the peace inside us, and it will grow, and will spread to those around us, and draw to us others who share and work for peace, goodness and love.
Wisdom teaches us to need less and want fewer material things; to cast off old fears and resentments, for we know that God is in charge and we are serving his purpose. Wisdom reminds us to give more and carry the message of hope. Wisdom reminds us that we are helped through being helpful to others and by bringing wisdom to them.
As we grow in life, we’ve got to work towards the wisdom needed to understand the difference between the things we can’t change and the things we can. I like to think about it this way: you can’t change the past, you can only change the present, and you never know what’s going to happen in the future, but you can affect tomorrow by what you do today.
As people go through life’s daily bumps and bruises, we need to give them time to hurt; but encourage them to heal, because you can’t hurt forever. Sooner or later you have to stop thinking about the past, because there’s nothing you can change about it. Then you have to start doing something about what’s going on right now and living in the moment.
So, how do we gain wisdom?
By Prayer – ask God for peace, for patience, for understanding, for guidance; then listen for the answer and you will almost always be surprised by from where the answer comes.
By Reflection – listen instead of talk, learn different points of view, consider different ways to solve a problem or respond to a situation; think about your options
By Restraint –think before you speak or act, turn the other cheek, try to see all sides of a problem or situation; don’t act in revenge, anger or spite
See yourself in the other person – consider what you would do or how you would feel if you were in his/her shoes
Seek Knowledge – the facts what can be proven, what has history shown us, what did others do in similar situations; study the lives and writing of wise people.
As I was reading Facebook this morning, I saw a quote from Jimi Hendrix in a fortune cookie:
- Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.
Seek the ‘Light’ – the light of knowledge, yes, but also the light of truth, fairness, integrity and love.
With the SERENITY of acceptance, the COURAGE,/strong> and risk of determined CHANGE, we will be reborn each day in each of us
the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can
the Wisdom to know the difference.
1 Alcoholics Anonymous, Blue Book
2 Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 30 June 2013
3 Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 7 July 2013
4 Delivered at In The Garden Ministry, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH, 14 July 2013