My pastoral counselor prescribed for me the daily practice of praying the famous Serenity Prayer for the next couple weeks. I’m not struggling with addiction or substance abuse, and I haven’t joined an AA group, but this prayer has much broader application for many other personal afflictions.
I discovered two new things as I accepted this assignment. First, I was asked to look up the “full version” which I didn’t know there was, and, second, I learned that this prayer was written by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971) for a sermon at Heath Evangelical Union Church in Heath, MA and used it widely in sermons as early as 1934.
Most of us are familiar with a shorter 3-line version adopted and used widely by Alcoholics Anonymous:
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.
I am enjoying praying and reflecting on the fuller version. Here it is with key ideas in all caps:
God, give us GRACE to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, COURAGE to change the things which should be changed, and the WISDOM to distinguish the one from the other. 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. Amen.
I especially appreciate the fact that the original begins with a prayer for the “grace” that comes from God (as pure gift) that enables us to find the serenity (that is, “inner peace” or “untroubled spirit”). In an age that preaches self-help spirituality it is always good to be reminded that, in the Christian life of faith, “all is grace.” Christ makes the first move, approaches us with love and forgiveness, offering the treasures of his bountiful blessings even while we’re yet wallowing in the mud puddles (often of our own making).
I’m also finding it powerful to pray for daily provision, a “one moment at a time” approach to life, the ability to embrace hardship as a pathway toward something redemptive and worthwhile (i.e., peace, character growth, etc.), and to take the world (and all my circumstances and challenges) “as it is” and “not as I would have it.”
A subtle but powerful warning to our pleasure-seeking culture is found in the prayer for a “reasonably happy” life and the infinitely superior pursuit of the supreme happiness that is promised in the next life. Many of us are miserable not merely because we’re not happy, but because we made happiness the main goal in the first place. If “Holiness” (rather than “Happiness”) and growth in Christlike character is our ultimate purpose in this life, then we can face less-than-happy days and struggles with resolve and even joy, knowing that our trials are opportunities to grow and every tear we shed, and every kingdom act (even if never rewarded in this life) is a seed sown into the eternal soil of the coming Day when our future glory will far outweigh these temporary troubles.
There is much wisdom in these words, and we could use some wisdom in this world right now. I’ve been studying the ancient philosophical traditions in my doctoral studies lately, and have especially enjoyed the Stoics. Epictetus (c. 55 – 135 AD), a Greco-Roman Stoic Philosopher wrote similarly: “Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens. Some things are up to us and some things are not up to us. Our opinions are up to us, and our impulses, desires, aversions—in short, whatever is our own doing. Our bodies are not up to us, nor are our possessions, our reputations, or our public offices, or, that is, whatever is not our own doing.”
I sat with a table full of 4th-8th grade boys last night eating pizza and enjoying my monthly “Jesus-Wisdom chats” with our new “Jason’s House” youth group at MainStreet. We explored Jesus’ words from Matt 16:24-27 especially zeroing in on his words, “What good is it if someone gains the whole world, but loses their soul?” In a world that is obsessed with gaining fame, riches, worldly success and personal happiness, Jesus tells us to not lose sight of our soul’s health, desires and eternal purpose. The Serenity Prayer is medicine for our soul — our inner person, our truest self.
So, along with your other daily pills for your physical health, consider joining me in taking a daily dose of this soul-soothing medicine by praying today:
God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
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.