Did he write the words himself? Or did he borrow them from another source?
Some are still concerned with 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. Some have called it the perfect prayer.
Learning to live by the truths of Niebuhr’s prayer requires daily mindfulness. We especially need courage to change our thinking about the two greatest killers of our serenity: fear and resentment.
Meet the two Goliaths that threaten to undo us.
FEAR. Call it by any name – including worry or anxiety – it is still a form of insanity so many of us indulge. It can be anxieties about our health, families, finances, or any other phantom from the future. These fears range from irritants nibbling at the fringe of our consciousness to full-blown obsessions. If we are the ones who shoulder responsibility in any arena – family, home, work – we often justify our stress with the adage that “it’s a dirty job, but somebody has to 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 and syphoned 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. Call it by any name – anger or unforgiveness – it infuses our world with poison. “Resentment” comes from the Latin sentire, meaning “to feel.” So, at its root, resentment means to re-feel or re-experience negative emotions from a prior wound. That injury may have come from a very real transgression against us. It may simply be self-scarring from our prideful egos. It may be self-incrimination for chances we have missed and mistakes we have made. Whatever the content of our 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 existence depends on this.
The recovery community that meets around our globe has some pithy words for all of us as we seek to free ourselves. One phrase from AA is particularly powerful. “What we have is a daily reprieve based on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.” How do we claim this 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 cleanse us.
- Daily gratitude, both for past evidence of our Creator’s faithfulness, as well as for the abundance of good things this new day has to offer.
- 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.”