Sunday, September 20, 2015

Finding Serenity Through Acceptance

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.  Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace.  Taking as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will, so that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen.

In years past, I’ve heard the first sentence of the serenity prayer many times.  I’ve seen it on plaques and wall hangings.  They were just words and the words didn’t mean anything to me because I never stopped to think about the words. 

That first sentence of The Serenity Prayer…..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…… very powerful if you take the time to actually absorb what the words mean.  But hearing the entire prayer is more powerful still.  I’d like to examine the prayer with you and then let’s see where we are at the end of this message.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change –

Serenity….what is it?  What does it mean? It means clearness, quiet, calm, tranquil, peaceful. 

In the prayer, we are asking God for the peace to accept the things in life, both personal and situational, that cannot be altered.  Accepting the things we cannot change is so difficult. Much of our lives are shaped by things that happen to us. We come into the world from the very beginning shaped by circumstance beyond our control. The family we are born into, the culture, the economic resources, the country, all of these things shape us before we take our first breath.
But it doesn’t end there. Life is filled with things that just happen to us, things beyond our control. Oftentimes what we want to change most are the other people in our lives. One of the hardest things to accept in life has to be the inability to change other people, especially the people that we love. Certainly we can provide encouragement and resources, but it is virtually impossible to force another person to change unless he or she is willing to change themselves.  And anyone who has taken the time to reflect on their life knows the struggle of not being able to change the past. Every one of us has regrets, a bad decision made here and there. We can do our best to mend a relationship that has been damaged, but the past is the past, there’s no white-out in life. There is nothing we can do to change it. God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change.

And then there is the nagging desire to change ourselves. There are a great many things that we can change about ourselves, but there are many more that we are stuck with. We are imperfect beings, by nature. We are not going to be perfect parents, perfect spouses, perfect homemakers, perfect professionals. And we also aren’t going to have perfect bodies or perfect health. Try as we might, some things are beyond our control.  The sooner we accept the things we cannot change about ourselves, the sooner we can move on to focus on the things we can change.

So, what is this first part of the prayer asking us to do?  It’s asking us to embrace what IS, rather than wishing for what is not.  It’s asking us to embrace what’s happened in the past, embrace our faults, embrace the people in your life along with their faults.  When we accept these realities, we are acknowledging that they are real, not made-up, not fake.  “Acceptance” boils down to this: standing firm and being willing to look reality in the eye.  To face our fears and doubts.  To quiet our impulse to run away or distract ourselves in the hopes they’ll go away.  When we accept, we start to find that we tend to be more at peace, more serene – we realize “it is what it is.”

Now, The courage to change the things I can –

This is a request for the strength and fortitude to overcome that which is possible to achieve.  We’ve already ascertained some of the things that cannot be changed, so, what are some of the things can be changed?  I can change myself, I can change how I live my life, I can change any addictions that I have, I can take a stand about something….there are many things I can change, but first, I have to go back to the first part of the sentence and accept that the thing I want to change is real.  I have to accept that I demonstrate an unhealthy behavior at times, I have to accept that I have an addiction, I have to accept that there is an intolerable situation that I am passionate about, etc. etc.  But this part of the sentence uses the word courage.  Courage – what’s that got to do with changing things?  Courage is the ability to conquer fear or despair.  I feel that courage is a very appropriate word here.  How many of us are content to put up with things, yet are equally content to complain about it?  How many of us have decided to actually change something, only to work at it for a little while before falling back into old habits or saying that “it’s too hard to change?”  How many of us have felt very strongly about an issue, yet will not speak up, or attend that demonstration?  That’s where the courage part comes in.  Is it really too hard to change, or is it that we’re afraid to change?  Our little world may become disrupted if we change….it may affect the way people look at us……it may actually cause the breakup of a relationship.  But, if the thing you are trying to change is real enough or painful enough to you, then you need to find the courage to do it. 

And the wisdom to know the difference –

When we have the wisdom to know the difference between what we can and cannot change, we can save ourselves a lot of trouble and energy.  When we can distinguish what is in our control and what is not in our control we can stop trying to control what we absolutely cannot control. 

Wisdom – that’s a great word.  Wouldn’t you be pleased as punch if someone associated you with the word wisdom?  Say, you know Dan is really wise….or that Fred….he’s got a lot of wisdom.  It’s a distinguished word.  Wisdom means insight, judgment, good sense, knowledge.  We’re asking God to provide us with the wisdom to know when to accept a situation and when to challenge it.  To me, that means that we need to have faith that there is a higher power or higher being that can grant us this wisdom.  How does this wisdom get from God to us?  I can only speak for myself but in my experience, God speaks to me in one of two ways:  the first requires quiet and time to be introspective and look deeply inside myself.  I need to contemplate and think things through.  Sometimes, if I’m lucky, the wisdom will come quickly, but all too often, my thoughts start scattering and I can’t bring myself back so, I may have to try this many times.  The other way is usually the way it happens for me.  I can be going about my usual business, thinking about this and that, when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, the wisdom comes to me….Boom.  Here’s the answer.  Each one of you needs to find your own way to wisdom.  You need to let go and let God.

So, we’ve gotten through the most familiar form of The Serenity Prayer.  How about the rest….What does that mean to me? 

Living one day at a time, one moment at a time, accepting hardships as the pathway to peace –Living one day at a time, one moment at a time….we’ve all heard that phrase.  To me, since that phrase is found within a prayer asking for serenity, I take it to mean that we should enjoy what is around us…see the beauty of the seasons, smile, live now and don’t worry about what’s going to happen because when you worry about what might happen, you lose what’s happening right now. 

Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace - There’s that “accepting” word again!  This goes back to “the courage to change the things I can.”  Hardships will happen…we don’t go looking for them, but they happen to everyone.  Accept it…it’s real.  If it’s something that can be changed, change it.  If not, let it go.  In either case, accept it and you’ll get your serenity back.

Taking as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; - I, like all of you in this room, would love it if the world were a peaceful, loving place.  It’s not.  Being distraught or overwhelmed by the events of this world is an unhealthy thing to do.  I am certainly guilty of being both.  But, coming back to The Serenity Prayer, I cannot change what has and is happening in the world today.  What I can do is take a realistic look at what I can do to make it a better place for the future.  I can’t wish away the wars going on in the Middle East.  But I can sit down to dinner with Deya and Haya and learn about them and get others to learn about them and then those others can get  others to learn about them… see where this is going.  Or like everyone that helps with the Food Pantry, or helps with renovating the playground….we’re helping to make the world a better place for some people.  We are doing what we can do in our community.  It all comes down to individual actions.

Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will, so that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next –

Here’s where faith comes into play.  Stop trying to control things…..surrender to the will of God, listen for his messages.  He’ll lead us down the right path.  If we try to do these things, we should be reasonably happy in this life.  And the last part of the sentence “…and supremely happy with Him forever in the next,” well, I’m just focusing on this life, and not worrying about the next just yet.

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