Thursday, November 13, 2014

THE SERENITY PRAYER

Just about everyone in the Western World is familiar with the first part of the prayer written by Reinhold Niebuhr which is usually referred to as "The Serenity Prayer." I said "the first part," because there is much more to that Niehbuhr prayer/meditation than the part that is almost universally known as The Serenity Prayer":


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.

That was, as I said, only the first part of the Niebuhr prayer. After that opening, it continues:

Living one day at a time; 
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; 
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; 
Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.
Amen.


Those of you who know me might suspect, rightly, that I have some problems with the theology underlying the second part of The Prayer, not to mention what seems to me to be rather tortured syntax, but that's okay; it's the first part that I want to deal with here, anyway. I don't think I have any problem with that.

The Prayer seems to presuppose that every negative situation we face falls into one of two categories: Things We Can Change, or Things We Cannot Change. I agree with that. If something I'd rather not deal with is something that I can't change, then I have to muster up (or, I'd say pray for) the grace and serenity and strength to accept it as it is. If, on the other hand, it is something that I really can change, I pray for the guidance and strength and courage to do so. While it is sometimes obvious into which category a specific situation fits, that is not always the case, so if I don't really know whether something can be changed or must be accepted, I pray for the guidance and wisdom to understand which it is.

What I must never do, however, is to expect the world and Reality to adjust to my desires and perceptions, rather than adjust my desires and perceptions to the world and Reality. I have a friend who sees the former as the very essence of insanity; I see it as the perfect example of immaturity.

If I observe a huge tapestry and concentrate my attention on only one thread in that work, that one thread may be plain, insignificant, even ugly. But as I pull back and take in the grand sweep of the tapestry, I may begin to see how that little thread fits into the whole, how it contributes to the composition, the beauty of the work. Likewise with Life; I may be overwhelmed by any specific circumstance, but if I am able to take a longer-range view, I will see that each occurrence in my life has a lesson to teach me; I can grow from every circumstance; each situation contributes to the beauty and worth of my life.

I believe that. And that's why I find the first part of The Serenity Prayer to be so meaningful and powerful.