Alcoholics Know How To Pray
A while back I ran across the prayer often used by Alcoholics Anonymous groups. Anne Lamott calls it a “Greatest Hits prayer” and posits an alternative to the opening part: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, the courage to change the things I can, and the weaponry to make the difference!”
This first “stanza” is the most familiar, but I’ve found the entire prayer, originally written by Dr. Rheinhold Niebuhr, to be profound and practical. I memorized it and have prayed it many times. I may not be a recovering alcoholic, but I sure am a recovering sinner.
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.
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;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…
“Serenity” is such a great word, don’t you think? (Have you seen the Seinfeld episode where George’s dad screams out, “Serenity now!” every time he feels stressed? Pretty funny.) Anyway, these days I’m looking for all the serenity that I can find, especially related to “things I cannot change.” Never have I been so aware as I am today of the innumerable things over which I have no control. I told a friend a while back that I “hated” free will! Although it is my prerogative to hate it if I want to, my aversion didn’t make it go away. I’ve actually amended my disdain to more of an intense irritation. In a theological discussion I can pretty aptly defend God’s “free will experiment.” I understand that love is impossible without the ability to choose against it. Nevertheless, since I’ve been so nearly fatally bitten by it, I tend to recoil at the thought of humans possessing this fearful freedom to choose. Therefore, I desperately cry out to God for serenity about things that I can’t change, like free will.
Courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference…
There are some things that I can change, and I really do want to. If you know me, I think you’d admit that I’m fairly self-aware and pretty clued-in to my own dysfunctionality. It’s clear to me that my crummy choices over the years made an enormous contribution to my relational failures and ultimately my divorce. I can’t change anyone else’s choices, nor can I amend the ones that I’ve already made. I can only change those things that are still out in front of me – and for those I need courage.
Living one day at a time…
This is another one of those things about which I used to give very solid biblical teaching, but had very little idea about how to actually do it. It really helps when you have a fatal disease that could pull the earth rug out from under you any day. Of course we all have the fatal disease called “mortality” and could perish from any number of causes at any time. Think of how much better we would live each day if we were more aware that it might be our last.
Enjoying one moment at a time…
This is quite tricky actually. It’s key to my mental survival to resist getting locked up in the past or freaked out about the future. I can’t very well enjoy the present if I’m not there. The past is where many of my mistakes are and I feel guilty. The future is the place where a bunch of scary things might exist and I become anxious. So, even though it may not feel like it sometimes, the present is actually the safer and more enjoyable place to live.
Accepting pain as the pathway to peace…
I can’t be sure what was in Niebuhr’s mind when he wrote this, but I know I’ve found a new kind of peace while enduring the pains of loss and sickness. I wouldn’t have used the term, “pathway” for it, but I can see how pain gives God the opportunity to give me something I didn’t know existed. I’m more apt to find a “peace that passes understanding” when I bring my problems to God.
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it…
“It is what it is!” Ever heard that? I may want what it is to be something other than it is, but wishing it to be so won’t make it so. In fact, it makes me feel worse and even more disappointed with reality when I spend my time wishing for another reality. I don’t have magic power to change the reality I encounter – not even when I pray or do other spiritual exercises. I tried to do something similar with mind-altering substances during my youth. It didn’t work. I live in a fallen world, alongside other twisted people, and am influenced by my own corrupt nature. Someday Jesus will change all that, but today is not that day (at least it hasn’t been so far).
Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will…
Someday he’ll set it all right; he’ll fix what’s broken in me and in the world. In the meantime, it’s up to me whether to be part of the problem or part of the solution. My job is to surrender to his will. “Surrender” sounds so much like I go kicking and screaming. Yep.
That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next…
God doesn’t promise perfection in this life. “Reasonably happy” is a good goal for me. It’s achievable. “Supremely happy” will have to wait for another day, and I can wait, knowing that it’s coming. I know that the crux of supreme happiness is being “with him” in that place he’s prepared for me – and me for it. I can wait. I’ll have to wait. In the meantime, I’ll pray like my alcoholic friends.