In a world growing increasingly chaotic and uncertain, finding peace in the moment seems impossible.  Wars are looming and anger is growing.  Neighbors turn on each other, peaceful protests turn violent on all sides.  Volcanoes are erupting, earthquakes and hurricanes devastate cities and towns.  And a global flu virus continues to sweep the world.  Fear and anxiety envelope us as we lose perspective and trust-we are overwhelmed.  

Nothing seems to help-the search for peace and reason seems futile.   Conflicting truths collide-some lies in every truth, some truths in every lie.  An agenda to every movement, a goal in every motive, and communication becomes babble.  We search for hope and find despair; we seek reason and find madness.  Stress seems the new normal, and many turn to drink and drugs as a method to escape the moment, but this only intensifies the turmoil, if even in the moment it fools us into believing it brings relief.  Alcohol and drugs are never the answer: a contaminated bandaid will only infect us further, but our world feels so overwhelming that even that appears better than where we stand.   

Almost 100 years ago, America and the world faced another crisis not unlike today.  The stock market crashed, impacting all nations.  War loomed, epic droughts devastated the plains, homelessness and helplessness, and the Plague devastated across India, China and other Asian countries, resulting in over 15 million deaths.  Diphtheria, Tuberculosis, and measles rampaged America and Europe, coming on the heels of the globally transmitted and deadly Spanish flu.   From the Franklin D Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum:

America 1932, A Nation in Fear

“In 1932, America was a nation living in fear.  A global depression – the worst in history – had thrown millions out of work. Unemployment was approaching 25 percent. Factories were silent. Banks were failing. Farms were abandoned. And after three years of growing hardship, no end to the crisis was in sight.”

In the midst of this turmoil in 1932, Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote:

“Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.”

Niebuhr recognized the helplessness people felt everywhere.  He also recognized that anger, hatred, self-deprecation and accusations are part of the downward spiral into despair.  Niebuhr understood that a fractured society breaks the heart of humanity, rots the soul of the person.  He called on all of us to stop, take a breath, and ground ourselves in the moment-what can you change?  What can’t you change?  Acceptance and guidance to just do the next right thing.  

When we look at our world today, not so unfamiliar to the time a century ago, how can we hold fast to these words?  Sure, there are some differences; in today’s world, we have instant access to events happening anywhere in the world, in real time.  Almost every person has some kind of smartphone or recording device, bringing us immediately into each moment.  We are infinitely more aware of life, yet, surprisingly, we are at the same time isolated from each other.   

Nieburh’s prayer spread rapidly through church groups in the 1930’s and 1940’s and was adopted and popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step programs to this day:

“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.”

I think we need to unpack this today…we really need this today.

To begin, let’s not get bogged down by the term ‘prayer’.  Rev. Peter Friedrichs wrote; “Prayer is much more than wishful thinking.  Prayer is an opening up to all that is beyond us and outside of us. It’s about making connections with both the known and the unknown. It’s admitting that we’re finite, but that we’re a part of an infinite system of wonder and mystery. When we can “plug in” to that system, when we can experience our unity with it, we’re opening ourselves up to its wisdom.

Look at the first word:  “God”   Some people may balk here.  Chris Elkins, MA defines:  “A higher power is something greater than us. For many people, God is a higher power. For others, a higher power isn’t associated with religion or a deity. It’s a connection that we share with all living things. Some people don’t try to understand their higher power. They believe humans can’t comprehend it.”  Regardless of how you perceive a higher power,  having faith in something other than yourself frees you to understand you are not alone.   

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change”, the first part of the prayer, calls for us to have peace in acknowledging that events in the world will happen regardless of how you feel about them.  Acceptance in this context does not necessarily mean to agree with, or condone; instead, it means to endure without protest or reaction; to regard it as inevitable.  To understand that what is happening is happening, regardless of how you feel about it.  To relinquish your control, realize your limitations, and face reality with Grace.   

Think about this in terms of nature-there is no power of this earth that can change the pull of the ocean tide, or the direction of a hurricane or a tornado.  The sun cannot be changed to shine warmer or cooler; the leaves of a tree will still fall in the autumn no matter your protests.  The best we can do is appreciate their power for what it is.  

When we think of people, acceptance does not mean agreeing with someone or condoning their behavior, but instead, to recognize that each person has a free will the same as you have, and their choices are their own-we cannot change another’s will-only our own.  

The next line, “Courage to change the things I can”, calls on us to make these changes within ourselves and our own behaviors to adapt to our changing environment.  In a world where we feel helpless and powerless, there is always at least one thing that we do have the power to change in our life, and that is ourselves.  

We do not have control of what’s going on around us,  but we do have control over our thoughts, our attitudes, our choices, and perhaps most importantly, we have control over how we respond to and treat others.  In America, if we don’t like the way a government decision is made, we can vote for changes.  If we are in the path of a hurricane or a tornado, we can take steps to protect ourselves from the damaging wind and rains.  When leaves fall, we can, instead of protesting their mess, appreciate their beauty.  In the face of conflict, we can accept their opinion as their own instead of arguing and fighting.  Courage means responding  with strength and Grace; to allow others their opinion without being dissuaded from our own values.  

The final stanza of our prayer is more about ‘unknowing’ than knowing. Rev. Peter Friedrichs continues; “The wisdom to know the difference” – between what we can control and what we can’t, between who or how we want to be and who or how we don’t, between what we want to do and where we want to go or not – deep and abiding wisdom can be gleaned from a variety of sources. But I believe that ultimately it comes down to a single spiritual practice: listening. Listening to what others who have our best interest at heart are telling us. Listening to what our intuition, our heart, our soul is telling us. And engaging in practices that create channels for the songs of the Universe to penetrate through all the noise of our lives and to reach us in our deepest, in-most places.”  

To learn the difference between what we can control and what we cannot, we need to be silent and still- to listen, not just hear, to understand that my opinion is mine as much as your opinion is yours.  That this world is tired of fighting, tired of pain and destruction and chaos.  That all life has value.  To let go of control is to gain control, to release is to find.  To recognize that not knowing is how to know, to feel is how to touch.  Learn first your values, always check your motives twice, dissect your anger; it is most likely only fear.  And through this, you might understand the differences between what we can change and what we cannot.  

“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.”          Albert Einstein


As always, my hopes are for your hopes and dreams.   Peace to you this day…….T