Wisdom and Serenity
I’ve been thinking a lot about the Serenity Prayer recently:
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.
Written by theologian and philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr and adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs, it is so commonplace in our culture today that it’s easy to pass it by without really taking it in, and so today, I’d like to invite us to exactly that – slow down and take it in.
Here it is in the longer, original form (and the Wikipedia entry on the prayer is fascinating and well worth reading!):
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.
What strikes me above all else is the call in this prayer for the inner quality of listening and discernment that is perhaps the heart of true wisdom. Wisdom not as the accumulation of facts or knowledge which are often transitory, but rather wisdom as the ability to listen with the ear of our heart. This inner wisdom is cultivated through practice, through patience, and often, but not always, through experience.
So this month, as we travel with the theme of Wisdom, I invite you to print out this prayer, the longer version, and do the following:
Sit with the words that might provoke some discomfort and work to understand your discomfort, and how you might find some peace with those words. For me, as a non-Christian, I’ve had do to some work with the language of God and sin, and I have to remind myself sometimes that my view of Jesus as a teacher and prophet isn’t incompatible with a reference to Jesus as God. The words that provoke you may be different. Proceed at your own pace.
Once you’re reasonably settled with the language read it once or twice, or more frequently each day, and ask where in those moments of your day are you seeing the themes of the prayer reflected back to you? Where do see serenity or surrender? Courage? Moment to moment presence and awareness? Inner wisdom?
As you come to the end of the month, look back over the days since you started the practice of working with this prayer. What have you learned about your inner wisdom? Does it have a particular feeling, shape, or texture associated with it? The inner life is hard to find words for, but try anyway – how do you know when you’re listening with the ear of your heart to the wisdom that is truly yours?
See you at church!