Surrender to Serenity

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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.

This prayer, attributed to American theologian Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr, has taken on a life of its own since Niebuhr first used it in a sermon seven decades ago.

It brought comfort to countless military personnel during World War 2, when it was published in 1944 in a Federal Council of Churches book for army chaplains and servicemen.  Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs have made it an important part of their meetings.  It’s used at funerals, in hospitals and hospice, at graduations, or during private contemplation.

What is it about the Serenity Prayer that gives it such lasting power, and makes it appropriate for so many circumstances?

It’s because the prayer makes us a humbled yet hopeful partner with a loving God – a God who won’t magically make challenges disappear, but who, at our request, will give us the spiritual strength and discernment to understand and then handle any situation which may arise.

It offers a course of action when we feel we’ve screeched to a painful halt, and places us directly in the flow of divine grace, love and peace.  The prayer acknowledges that sometimes, the only way to release our anger, or fear, or impatience, or shame about something in our lives is to merely let all those harmful emotions go.  It helps us surrender to the reality that what’s done is done, what is, is, and perhaps the only possible thing about it that can change is the meaning we chose to give it.  On those occasions, when surrender is the only option, the prayer reassures us that heart-felt surrender will result in a positive emotional shift, and a blessed peace.

The prayer speaks to the spiritual warrior in each of us by calling on God for the sheer guts to bravely confront what’s out of balance in our lives, and set it right.  Whether it’s an issue in our personal or professional lives, a health opportunity, or a worthy cause that speaks to our heart and soul, we’re not asking God to just handle it – we’re asking God to partner with us, to have our back while we charge ahead with prayerful resolution to make the world a better, more loving place.

And finally, the real power of the prayer is its acknowledgement that sometimes, the line between knowing when to surrender, and knowing when to keep fighting, can be hard to discern.  Only through the divine grace of a loving God can we truly learn which is the right course of action.  While ‘knowledge’ about an issue can be all tangled up with ego and less than entirely positive motives, ‘wisdom’ comes straight from the heart, and straight from the hand of God.  Beseeching God for the pure insight and good judgment that comes to those who ask is a powerful, positive way to take the right path.

May you know the peace that flows to us only by surrendering to God.

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