Most of us know this part:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Reinhold Niebuhr‘s lovely and concise guide to living has helped countless people successfully navigate transformational change in their lives. I have used this very phrase both personally and professionally for decades.
Many of us have repeatedly sought comfort from these words of late in response to events both close and far away.
The phrasing is so elegant, the words are easy to remember and say, and everything seems just so “right”.
How many of us have read the entire prayer, which introduces a few more ideas?
“Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardship 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.
Complete prayer from AchieveBalance.com.
Several phrases worthy of note here:
“Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace”
Oh, you mean all my troubles will not disappear if I just choose wisely and trust? This seems to say that we must endure hardships along the way and I see nothing about lifting the weight from our hearts or taking away that hardship.
“Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it.“
This seems to show that this is much more about acceptance than about change. Taking things as they are might mean we may need to realize that evil exists and will continue to exist, that humanity is fully capable of horrific acts individually and in groups, and that positive thinking alone may not cut it.
This sentence also includes the lovely phrase “not as I would have it”, which neatly identifies a major psychological stumbling block for many of us, me included.
“That I may be reasonably happy in this life“
Ahem … the word “reasonably” just jumps out at you, doesn’t it?
Not “supremely“, “completely“, or “absolutely” … just “reasonably“.
Apparently, happiness is not an absolute, but a quality, which can increase or decrease. we may need to change that perennial question “Are you happy?“ to a more, dare I say reasonable question of “How happy are you at this moment?“
Side Note: Whether Niebuhr actually authored this prayer is in some dispute, but here is the original version of the well-known part:
“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.”
Now you have some other things to consider next time you utter those well-known words.
Begrudgingly thanking Paul Harvey for the inspiration for the title of this post in the Heartland ….