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 had a friend for many years who started every day with the Serenity Prayer. She had been in recovery from alcoholism for 17 years at that time, and said that her work through Alcoholics Anonymous had changed not only her physical health but had been the most profound part of her spiritual journey as well. She was an ordained pastor in the United Church of Christ, a seminary professor, and had spent time working as the Chief Administrator for a halfway house for women coming out of prison.
I’ve met a lot of people in my life, but I’m not certain I’ve ever met someone either as gifted or as diverse in background as she was. She graduated from the University of Denver and had a Masters of Social Work degree from there as well; she then went on to earn a Masters of Divinity from Iliff School of Theology (where Pastor Tiffany graduated) and a PhD from the Claremont School of Theology in Southern California. In the midst of all that, she did a year of classes at the American University in Beirut, Lebanon and had a deep appreciation for the Arab culture and life. She was quite clear about why she was a follower of Jesus, her roots in United Methodism and the theology of John Wesley went far deeper than most I know, and from that foundation her appreciation for understanding the unique differences in God’s full creation and the distinctiveness of each person, culture, and religious system was without question.
For some reason I’ve woken up the past several mornings with the Serenity Prayer on the back of my eyelids – my description of how I “see” things sometimes – and so I’ve offered it as a prayer each day. I’ve learned over the years not to ignore unexpected occurrences that seem to appear out of the blue. Perhaps the prayer is occurring in the genesis of my days because she died at 50 on March 14 many years ago, and we are approaching that date.
Perhaps it is in those sacred memories that God re-awakens us to intrinsic values in life that we/I do well to remember. Perhaps there is a commitment to recovery, not only from diseases like alcoholism, but from the many things that may distort the life with which God blesses us, and which do not allow us to receive the gifts God has for us. Perhaps it’s simply a profound and wonderful prayer that gives foundation to days filled with love and generosity of heart and spirit. Whatever its origin, I can say with great certainty that this prayer empowers a way of greeting the gift of a new day with humble gratitude.
The other thought that has been hanging around my mind and spirit in these days leading toward Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten journey is the meaning of courage. I’m intrigued as of late, by the nuanced understandings people have of this concept that go far deeper than a Webster’s or Wikipedia definition. Of course, the life of Jesus on the way to the cross has no small amount of impact on my thought process. Most often our shared idea of courage is the clearest. It’s the one who risks their life to save others in the face of great odds. The one who stands against the principalities and powers, not because they are unafraid, but because they are willing to face the fear with the deep belief that the lives of those around them have priceless beauty and value.
This definition is certainly descriptive of the one we know as Jesus, and I also think there is a deeper piece to his witness of courage as well. At the most elemental level, he remained true to the heart of his created nature, defining the full meaning of integrity, all the way to his death. That may seem simple and apparent, but when I sink deeply into what that means, I realize that it is a part of the miraculous nature of our faith story. He would not give in to retaliation, would not give in to desires for revenge, would not give in to the temptations to be less than who God created him to be, regardless of the rising pressures of the political and religious world around him. He refused to hate those we might name as his enemies – I’m not certain he would have called anyone that. He refused to quit his message of love and acceptance. He refused to give up on being God’s living word when both his friends and his adversaries were telling him, in as many ways as we might imagine, that it wasn’t going to turn out well for him.
Serenity… Courage… Wisdom. Not a bad way to start each day, one day at a time. A God unwilling to throw away anyone because of disease or perceived weakness. A God who continues to work through the gifts of the people who cross our paths. And a God who continuously offers us “unexpected” occurrences to remind and re-awaken us to the intrinsic gift that is life fully lived in this messy, beautiful, complex, wonderful, and deeply profound world saturated with the sacred presence of God. God grant us the Serenity… the Courage… the Wisdom…