Attend any 12-step based community support group and you will here the ritual chant of 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.
It appears this saying is done in an absent-minded form of shallow profession. Something we say in passive communication. A cliche so-to-speak. Yet, what is the significant spiritual impact the Serenity prayer have on the life of one who is walking in recovery?
Origin of the Serenity Prayer
Alcoholics Anonymous had adopted the serenity prayer. However, in a paper on the Origin of the Serenity Prayer one reads the various attempts in locating, and authenticating, a source. This paper outlines various forms of the prayer. From hieroglyphs in Ancient Egypt, a form in Sanskrit, Aristotle, Saint Augustine, and on down through the ages. One attribution appears to have solid verification and that is attributed to Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr. According to the paper, linked above, Dr. Niebuhr appeared to have confirmed his authorship to the serenity prayer. The only apparent difference is that this prayer seems to be longer, and part of a sermon (as one section of the paper suggests) and, part of a longer prayer.
Regardless of who originated the thoughts behind the Serenity Prayer – we do well to reflect on the more deeper and spiritual meaning behind its message. This includes understanding the prayer in the context that is best attributed to Dr. Niebuhr:
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.
Let us explore the more enriching and deeper meaning of the Serenity prayer in order to understand it’s significant and spiritual impact on our lives
Grace and Peace are Promised Blessings
There are numerous scripture passages that reflect on various forms of God’s grace and peace. However, one sum’s up the essence of the message. Paul is writing to the Christians in Philipi. In his final remarks, the Apostle leaves them with this promised blessing of hope:
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Here, Paul is calling our attention to Rejoice in God and follows up with his reiteration. In Greek The Apostle is instructing us to delight in God’s grace. Along with this, we are instructed to allow our gentleness be evident to all. This gentleness reflects the teaching of Christ in Matthew 5 as one of the Beattitudes – Blessed are the Meek for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. This idea of meekness refers to power that is reserved and gentle.
What this means for us is that we are seeking God’s divine grace whereby we are empowered to rejoice in order for it to be manifested through our lives where we are empowered, yet reserved and gentle. This gives us the serenity (or peace) we need to face our own humanity.
Paul continues his final exhortation and shares with us that we are not to give over to our own anxieties and worries. Instead, we give ourselves over to praying and thanksgiving in seeking after God’s will while making our own requests known. The Savior illuminated this teaching by revealing to the disciples:
7 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
8 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
What we find is that God will not change our circumstances. He will give us the strength we need to see through our circumstances. I recall a sermon from a Pastor years ago when he touched on the story of Peter’s encounter with the Savior. With the other disciples, Peter was out on the sea. The storm raged and the disciples seen the Savior walking toward them on the water. Amazed, Peter asked: Lord, if that is you call me to you.
The Savior obliged and Peter stepped out of the boat and began walking toward the Savior. Yet, when Peter took his focus off Jesus and saw the storm – fear took root and Peter sank into the depths. Christ reached down and grabbed Peter, pulling him out of the depths. What is revealed in this story is that Christ and Peter walked to the Boat and only then did the storm ceased (See, Matthew 14:22-23, ESV).
We do not possess the power to calm the storms within our own lives. Yet, when we focus on Jesus Christ, despite our own fears in the midst of the storm, He walks with us back to a place of safety. Only then, are we able to experience peace in our hearts and our minds. And, it is this very peace that transcends all understanding. It is the type of peace we are promised where it guards our hearts and our minds.
The spiritual impact this has on us is that we are petitioning God’s grace to face our storms with power of reserve and gentleness where our hearts and minds are guarded by our delight in Him. It is the very remedy to all our worries, our fears, and our anxieties as we adversity and opposition.
Courage to Empower Change
The next spiritual impact this prayer enlightens us with is the very courage we need to face the difficulties of our human existence. We read in Deuteronomy 31:6 this exhortation:
Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”
And, writing to his disciple, Timothy, Paul gives this counsel:
for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
This comes from our trust in God. Acknowledging Him and seeking His will in our own lives. Not, living according to our own passions, will, and desires (See, Proverbs 3:5-6, ESV). It is through Christ, we are empowered with courage to make those necessary and difficult changes. To do so requires that we sacrifice our own self-desires and inclinations. The Apostle Paul refers to this as Putting to death the old man as we are made into a new creation through Jesus Christ (See, Romans 6:6-23, ESV)
What are we empowered to change? Our old thoughts, behaviors, values and beliefs. This comes by not conforming to the present way of living life. Instead, it means we transform through the renewing of our minds on God’s word, personal revelation granted through the Holy Spirit, and walking in a manner that shows forth the evidence of God’s grace and love (See, Romans 12:1-3, ESV).
Wisdom is the Guiding Principle of Truth
We read the following truth in Proverbs 2:6:
For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
And, in James 3:17 we read what type of wisdom comes from God:
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
How do we obtain wisdom in order to discern between those things we are not able to manage compared to the understanding of how we are empowered to make change? James 1:5 provides us this insight:
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
We receive wisdom and instruction from God as we draw close to Him and seek Him. When we find ourselves lacking and in need – we simply go to him with our petitions and gratitude in order to receive personal revelation. Therefore, the first few lines of the Serenity prayer is guiding us to seek God’s grace in order to rejoice in it and through it experience a sense of power that is reserved and gentle. We are empowered with courage to know that we are not forsaken and that through Christ, we are able to face those difficult things that need to change. And, finally, we come to understand and acknowledge that it is through Christ where we receive Godly Wisdom to discern between that which we are not able to change compared to what we have the courage to change.
Living and Enjoying one day at a time
There is a reason the term One day at a time exists. Some tend to use this cliche statement as a means to justify that this is the moment we have. Hold on for that one moment. See it through. Yet, there seems to be something missing in regards to taking it one day, or one moment, at a time. It is missing the ability to enjoy and live in that moment.
- Take a moment to enjoy living free from substance use for that moment
- Take a moment to enjoy living in the experience of having a sense of belonging
- Take a moment in living and enjoying the simple act of breathing
- Take a moment in living and enjoying the chatter of passerby’s
- Take a moment in living and enjoying life where one finds a sense of meaning and purpose
This requires mindfulness. Being present and focused without worry and anxiety. Without focusing on what has already happened. We only have the present moment to enjoy and live in.
This is the real challenge for many people in recovery. Many of us do not know how to live, experience, and even enjoy the present moment. It is only when we come to a place and quiet our mind that we seek (through prayer and meditation) God’s counsel. This is where Wisdom comes into play. This is where Courage happens. This is where we find the grace we need to move through those moments where we face dire circumstances that call for our attention.
Accepting Hardship as a Pathway to Peace
American history of Pioneers moving west is a fascinating aspect of how our nation grew. Nothing is more inspiring than to read the many accounts of faithful individuals sacrificing everything they’ve owned, the comforts afforded to them, and to traverse hundreds and thousands of miles. More specifically, take some time to read the many different accounts of the adversity and faith Mormon Pioneers had to face in their journey toward what is now Salt Lake City.
Recovery is our own pioneering journey where it is fraught with adversity. Yet, if we allow ourselves to focus on the travels of our journey and give ourselves over to feeling defeated; we miss the opportunity of learning to live with purpose and meaning. For instance, in the article An Inspiring Pioneer Story for Those Who are On Their Own – we read this:
Often, our loving Heavenly Father does not remove suffering; He gives us strength for the journey. The path is never all sunflowers. When the storms of adversity come, as they do, He grants us peace if we diligently seek Him. No matter the circumstance, He lovingly tutors and grants us the wisdom and will to endure in faith. What the pioneers came to know, we can know: “God slumbers not nor sleeps as he watches over his children” (Psalms 121:4).
And, in a message delivered By Dallin H. Oaks about Trials and Adversity, we read the following:
In general conference ten years ago, Elder James E. Faust shared an experience President David O. McKay had related about the effect of hardships suffered in the Martin Handcart Company. Many years after this tragic event in which so many Mormon pioneers died, a teacher and some members in a Church class criticized the leadership of the Church for permitting that tragedy to occur. A man who had crossed the plains in the Martin Handcart Company was present in the class. Face white with emotion, he told the class they should not criticize something they knew nothing about.
“We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation,” he admitted, but he reminded them that the survivors of that company had not been critical. “Not one of that company ever apostatized or left the Church,” the old man said, “because everyone of us came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives for we became acquainted with him in our extremities.” He told how he had pulled his handcart “when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other.” Then, he said, “the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there.” “Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart?” he continued. “No. . . . The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay, and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Handcart Company” (James E. Faust, “The Refiner’s Fire,” Ensign, May 1979, p. 53, quoting David O. McKay, “Pioneer Women,” Relief Society Magazine, January 1948, p. 8).
One of the most famous concentration camp survivors, who became a well known psychologist, Viktor Frankl devoted his life to discover how we face adversity in our lives. His book Man’s search for Meaning appeared to share his own experience in various concentration camps.
“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Accepting hardships along the path of our recovery is establishing our attitude, our faith, our trust, and our hope in being empowered to overcome. Through humility, surrendering, and without murmuring – we make our way through those difficult times. In recovery, we are empowered to move from a place of vulnerability, sacrifice our fears, and develop resilience and confidence along the path to our promised land of peace. Along the way, we give a bit of ourselves over to other’s struggling along their path.
Living Life Abundantly through God’s Grace and Peace
The final aspect of the serenity prayer focuses back on the first principle truth – seeking God’s divine will and promise where we trust in Him to see us through our circumstances and situations.Yet, not all people feel that they may be able to come to a place of trusting God. Nor, are they open to receiving any blessings from Him. Let alone, do they not taste of any grace or peace. This has to do with the ultimate act of unforgiveness and resentment we may very well hold onto.
Yet, when we are humble enough to seek after Him, determined to make the sacrifice to follow His will for our lives, we secure the promised blessing of having an abundant life. Now, what that may look like or mean for someone differs. Yet, it does not mean we will be propped up with riches or any material wealth. No, what I believe this means is that we are promised to experience God’s love, God’s grace, and God’s strength to continue living with courage and wisdom in relation to our circumstances we face. By which, we are able to turn toward another and provide the same grace and love in helping them along their way and struggle.
We live life abundantly through the love we have for God and the love we have for one another. Our lives become beacons of hope toward those still lost in darkness. We give meaning and purpose to fight the good fight. To tarry along our own path. The promise is to live a life that is full of abundance where we are capable of enduring to the end.
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