Did he write the words himself? Or, did he riff them from another source?
Some still wrangle these questions, but this much is true. In 1943, during some of the darkest days of WWII, Reinhold Niebuhr – pastor, theologian, seminary professor – concluded his sermon at a church in Heath, Massachusetts with these words. “God give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”
Slightly altered…forever immortalized…this became The Serenity Prayer, one of the most recognized petitions on our planet.
We who find strength in Twelve Step fellowships will tell you this: putting flesh on this prayer is a daily discipline. We especially need courage to change our thinking about the two greatest killers of serenity: fear and resentment.
Meet the two Goliaths that threaten to undo us.
Fear, worry, anxiety: it’s a form of insanity too many of us indulge, whether it be fears about our health, our families, our finances, or any other shadow from the future. These fears range from irritants nibbling at the fringe of our consciousness to full blown obsessions. And if we are the fortunate ones who shoulder responsibility, we may justify our stress with the adage that “it’s a dirty job but somebody’s gotta do it.”
“Worry” comes from the Old English wyrgan, meaning “to strangle.” Could it be any clearer? The abundant flow of life, fully streaming in this moment, choked to a miserable dribble.
There’s a simple but eternal sentence spoken by Jesus in what we call his Sermon on the Mount. “Which one of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” The genius is in that word “hour.” Not years, months, even days. Our futile anxiety cannot add a single hour! As Jesus said, “Let those who have ears really hear.”
RESENTMENT, ANGER, UN-FORGIVENESS: they infuse our world with poison. “Resentment” comes from the Latin sentire, meaning “to feel.” So, at its root, resentment means to re-feel, re-experience, negative emotions from a prior wound. That injury may have come from a real transgression against us. It may simply be self-scarring from our prideful egos. It may be aimed at ourselves for chances missed, mistakes made. Whatever the object of this re-feeling, the result is cancerous.
HERE’S THE REASON FOR THIS POST. We must find ways to slay these two Goliaths on a daily basis. If you think of life (I HOPE YOU DO!) as learning to treasure every day, our fullness of life depends on this.
In Twelve Step groups, we speak of “a daily reprieve based on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.” How do we claim this Cinderella liberty? DISCIPLINE. Mental, physical, and spiritual practices that help us banish fear and resentment. There are so many! Find one that works for you, like:
- Meditation that allows this blessed moment to wash over us and cleanse us.
- Daily gratitude, especially for past evidence that our Creator has brought us through trial after trial.
- A crisp walk surrounded by the beauty of nature, glimpsing eternity and our humble place within it.
- An act of love that transforms our self-indulgence into a blessing for others.
- Forgiving and asking for forgiveness.
Do you have a discipline? If not, please find one. I am a man who squandered far too many years on fear and resentment. Let’s whisper this prayer together on our daily journeys…
“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.”