Alcoholics Know How To Pray

large_prayer-for-beginners-g13leaizI recently ran across a copy of the prayer that Alcoholics Anonymous groups use in their meetings. The first stanza is the most familiar to the general public, but the whole prayer, originally written by Dr. Rheinhold Niebuhr, has become a salve to my chapped soul. I have used it repeatedly in my own conversations with the Father in the last few years. It’s not in the category of the Lord’s Prayer, but it sure does cover the basics for how frail followers should pray.

The whole prayer goes like this:

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

Along with Scriptures that correlate with each segment of it, I’ve also used it in preaching on the street in the Tenderloin in San Francisco. Though most of our friends in “the TL” are addicted to something (alcohol and crack are their most common inebriants of choice), there are a few who aren’t. But all of us are hooked on one form of self-indulgence or another to one degree or another. I have no doubt that if I hadn’t turned myself in to Jesus as a teenager, drugs and alcohol would’ve devoured my life altogether. Thank God he gave me an alternative – himself!

As a recovering sinner myself I’ve been mending from the effects of my sin ever since I received Jesus, my Higher Power.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…

“Serenity” is such a great word, don’t you think? (I love the Seinfeld episode where, every time he feels stressed, George’s dad screams out, “Serenity now!”) 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 of the innumerable things over which I have no control.

When I told God that I “hated” free will, although it is my prerogative to hate it if I want to, I realize that my aversion to it won’t make it go away. Over time I’ve amended my disdain to more of an intermittent irritation. In a theological debate I can aptly defend God’s “free will experiment.” I understand that actual love is impossible without the ability to choose against it. Nevertheless, since I’ve been so brutally bitten by this frightening freedom to choose, I tend to recoil at it. 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 try. I’m fairly self-aware and pretty clued-in to my own dysfunctionality. I can’t change anyone else’s choices, nor can I take back the ones that I’ve already made. Though it scares me, there are some things within my purview to change. I need wisdom to know which ones those are and courage to begin.

Living one day at a time

This is one of those things about which I used to give solid biblical teaching with very little idea about how to actually do it in real life. If you want to learn how to live a day at a time, it helps to have a fatal disease that could pull earth’s rug out from under you at any time. If you ask me, the price of admission to learn this lesson is a little steep. 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 knew it was our last.

Enjoying one moment at a time

This one is a little tricky, especially when some of my moments aren’t exactly enjoyable. But I’ve survived emotionally because God has helped me 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 present in the present. The past is where many of my mistakes are logged and I regret them profoundly. The future is the place where a bunch of frightening things lurk, and I can tend to become quite anxious about the negative possibilities there. So, the present is the most enjoyable and most affordable place to live.

Accepting pain as the pathway to peace…

I found a new kind of peace while standing in the dark – hoping, enduring the pains of loss and sickness. I wouldn’t have used the word “pathway” as the connection between pain and peace. Pain is more of an opportunity to see my need for peace, and it provides God an occasion to provide it. Regardless of how bleak the darkness, God’s peace has been my companion many days and many nights.

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 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 about reality when I spend time wishing for another reality. I don’t have any magic powers to change the reality I encounter. Even my prayers and other spiritual exercises don’t often change the reality around me. I still live in a twisted world, alongside other twisted people, influenced by my own twisted nature. Someday Jesus will come back and untwist everything, but today is not that day (not so far anyway). Until he does, I’ll try to take things as they are and as they come.

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 to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. My role is to surrender to his will. “Surrender” sounds so much like I go kicking and screaming. Oh well.

That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next…

It helps me to acknowledge that God doesn’t promise utopian elation in this life. “Reasonably happy” is an achievable goal for me. “Supremely happy” will have to wait for another day, and because I know it’s coming I can wait for that day. That supreme happiness is all about being “with him” in that place he’s prepared for me – and me for it. What makes heaven heaven is he’s there. If he were to decide to reside in hell, I’d want to go there – to be with him! Seeing him face-to-face and hearing his mercy-motivated, “Well done!” is what I live for. But I can wait. I’ll have to wait.

While I’m waiting I’ll pray like my alcoholic friends.

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