“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.”
Outside of the Lord’s Prayer (the “Our Father”), the Serenity Prayer may be the most familiar prayer to most of us. I’ve heard it recited thousands of times and seen it printed on countless t-shirts, coffee mugs, and refrigerator magnets. American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote it in 1951.
I heard this prayer recited often at the end of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings. My father quit drinking when I was 12 and throughout my tween and teenage years I sat through many an AA meeting with my parents. Hearing this prayer was a relief to me – it meant I could escape an uncomfortable chair in yet another church basement or smoke-filled meeting room.
I don’t recall my father drinking. It was a surprise to me when he told me that he’d quit and started going to AA meetings for help. My only recollection of him drinking alcohol was a very warm Coors beer I snuck a sip of at a family picnic one summer. It was disgusting, and I couldn’t imagine why one would consume such an awful concoction.
My father died just 11 years later, when I was 23, but I learned an important lesson from his involvement with AA: at any given moment, we can choose to change. It may not be easy, but every one of us can, with some effort, some prayer, and perhaps an outpouring of grace, become a new creation. I watched a struggling man bare his soul to others and, in the process, saw his heart change. By the time he died he had become a joyful, happy man who helped countless others along their journey.
Today is Independence Day, 2020. Much of our country is still in the grips of the Covid-19 pandemic. We have restrictions on our travel, gatherings, and activities that most of us have never experienced before. We want to celebrate our freedom, but when we can’t do so the way we always have it just doesn’t feel right.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…”
We can’t change our biology to make us suddenly immune to this virus. We can’t wish it away, any more than we can wish away the common cold, hurricanes, or earthquakes.
“Courage to change the things I can…”
What I learned from my father is that I can change my thinking. I can change my attitude. I can change the words I use to describe what I’m experiencing. I can choose to let my heart and mind be opened to new possibilities. I can choose to pout, or I can choose to serve. So can you.
“Courage” is an interesting word. We often associate it with being brave or heroic; it’s easy to conjure up an image of a “courageous” soldier or firefighter stepping into harm’s way, but Brené Brown points out in her book “The Gifts of Imperfection” that “courage originally meant to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart”.
The word “courage” comes from the Latin word for “heart”. We are courageous when we share our hearts – our concerns, our burdens, and our fears, but also our hopes, our dreams, and our passions.
Daniel J. Boorstin, the former Librarian of Congress, wrote that “the courage to imagine the otherwise is our greatest resource, adding color and suspense to all our life”. We are courageous when we choose to look at our world in a new light, when we seek new ways of doing things, and when we seek new labels for ourselves and others.
Today we celebrate our freedom, and the freedom that nobody can ever take away from you is the freedom to choose a different way to look at life. Nobody can take that away from you – they can only discourage you.
“And the wisdom to know the difference.”
No, we can’t change what has happened in the past. But with courage, with heart, and with passion, we can change how we approach the future.
The lesson I learned from my father is that we all have the ability to choose “the otherwise”. We can choose to spread anxiety, fear, and resentment or we can choose to search our hearts, heal our wounds, and spread love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness. We are free to mourn what existed six months ago, but we are equally free to embrace the countless opportunities unfolding before us.
We are free to “imagine the otherwise” and create a new, exciting, wonderful world.
We are free to choose hope.
We are free to choose love.
We are free to encourage one another.
I know what my father chose, and I’m choosing the same.
You, my friend, are free.