Tuesday, September 2, 2014

What Gives Me Peace

“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.” – Reinhold Niebuhr
           I am the product of a broken family with many broken lives in a broken world. It’s true for you too, isn’t it? When I was younger, I used to feel like I had to fix every problem I came across, whether they were my own or not. I saw so many problems in my family that were out of my control to fix that I sought control by trying to fix every other problem around me. That’s why I liked math so much. Every problem had a solution.

            It’s taken me most of my life to realize that there are problems out of my control and things I don’t need to fix. I actually started to recognize this in one of my theology classes in college. My professor told our class that it’s not our job to evangelize (convert others to Christianity), because God can very well do that on His own. He’ll use us when needed. This was a strange concept to me. It meant relinquishing any power I thought I had over others and giving it up to God.

            I know there are those who are not religious or do not believe in God. Regardless, I find that many people have a spirituality of their own, whether it’s believing in a higher power, fate, destiny, the powers of the universe, etc. Whatever you believe, I want to share something that has given me the most peace in my life.

            Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr composed the Serenity Prayer in the 1940s. It has since been adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous and has become known to Christians, as well as many non-Christians. It has given many people peace, and I hope it can do the same for you.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;

            Serenity means being calm and untroubled. In a Huffington Post article titled, “5 Timeless Truths From The Serenity Prayer That Offer Wisdom In The Modern Age,” the author explains that acceptance is not laziness and does not make us complacent. In fact, acceptance is the last stage in the five stages of grief because it is one of the hardest things to do. It’s easy, and understandable, to get angry or be upset, but peace only comes with acceptance.

The courage to change the things I can;

            Many times we can look at the world around us and think of the countless ways we want to change it. And often, there are things you can do to make that change. But, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn asked, “If you wanted to put the world to rights, who should you begin with: yourself or others?” The Huffington Post article poses a question we should ask ourselves, “Is this how I really want to live?” Seeing the flaws within in yourself takes courage, but to be able to change them takes even more.

And the wisdom to know the difference.

            Having the wisdom to know the difference between the things you can and cannot change is probably one of the trickiest parts of this prayer. It takes patience and a lot of trust and faith in yourself, God, or other people. But wisdom is something that can be acquired through experience and time.

picture taken at Tivoli, Italy - Villa D'Este

Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time;

            Rather than wondering why we aren't happier, or picking through every minute aspect of our lives, the prayer asks us to focus on the present,” says Huffington Post. Constantly focusing on the future is stressful. Though it’s very important to be prepared for the future, we don’t know what will happen. All that is in our power to do is to enjoy life at this very moment.

Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;

            Anyone who has ever overcome an obstacle or hardship knows you can see the growth that happened during that time. I don’t know why bad things happen, but I do know that I am grateful for every bad thing that has ever happened to me. I have grown. I have seen others grow. I have seen amazing beauty come out of such brokenness. It may take a lot more time than you’re willing to wait, but I truly believe that something good can come out of any tragedy.

Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it;

Vatican, Italy
mosaic in St.Peter's Church - Vatican, Italy

            There is a difference between the way we see the world, the way we want it to be, and the way it actually is. Many people cannot see past their own bubble of a world. Everything they know and believe comes from their friends, family, and experiences, but there is a bigger world out there. My world is different from someone outside of my ethnicity, socio-economic status, and location. What is bad to me is not bad to someone else and is worse to another person. Learn to see the bigger world for all of its tragedy and beauty.

Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will;

            When so many things are out of our control, the only thing we want to do is try and gain control over anything we can. The hardest thing is to relinquish all control to another, whether it’s God or someone trusted. Sometimes it’s just trusting that a parent or friend can handle a situation that you can’t on your own. But when you give up this control, which requires an enormous amount of trust, then you’ll feel free and peaceful. The burden isn’t yours, or at least not yours alone.

That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen.

            Once you have surrendered your control and put trust in other, which requires a courage of its own, then you may be surprised by how much happier you are. The very profound thing about this line of the prayer is that it does not say you will be “ultimately happy,” “extremely happy,” or “totally happy.” You may be “reasonably happy” in this life, which means that happiness is not the goal of living, but it can be a consequence of a life lived well. If you believe in an afterlife, then this prayer asks that you may find supreme happiness with God, or whichever higher power you believe in.

            The Huffington Post article concludes with this, “… there's something universal in the prayer's quiet celebration of understanding our own potential, our own limits, and our capacity for transcendence.” May you find peace through your courage to change, ability to accept and surrender to the things you can’t, and your wisdom to seek out what is in your control and what is not.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths."

Proverbs 3:5-6


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