Most of us are probably familiar with the first four lines of the Serenity Prayer. But how many of us are familiar with the last eight? When I read the remainder of this prayer that was written almost 80+ years ago by Reinhold Niebuhr, it caught my attention and has stayed with me whenever I found myself in a time of crisis. I would say America, which means all of us, is currently in a time of crisis, wouldn’t you?
The Serenity Prayer has been used by Alcoholics Anonymous and many other 12-step programs for decades. I’m sure you’ve seen it printed on greeting cards, bookmarks, and throughout social media. But for the most part, it stops after the first four lines. I wonder why? Here is the entire prayer:
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.
Before we look into the second part of the prayer, let’s just clarify the word “serenity.” By definition it can mean “clearness, calmness, quietness, stillness, peace.” Each of these words fit, but one or two may touch you at a deeper level of where you are today. Are you searching for Clarity? Calm? Quiet? Stillness? Peace? What about our country as a whole? I’m not sure what they are searching for but it doesn’t appear to be Serenity! Or maybe they are, but not knowing the second half of this prayer, they have no idea where to look?!
We, as a country, are made up of individuals. Individuals who are created equally in the image of God. I find myself, at times, feeling like I can’t make a difference “out there” on my own. But if we all take a look at ourselves, change can be made collectively.
So let’s dive in to the next eight lines:
Living one day at a time
How many of us do that? It is NOT easy to do! Especially in light of our constant access to happenings around the world in real-time that are edited based on the beliefs of the author. But how about the next line?
Enjoying one moment at a time
Two words jump out—enjoying and moment. Hmmm … enjoying our current personal or worldwide crisis? Enjoying physical, emotional or economic pain? I think the word moment is what makes this possible. For me to enjoy each moment, it means I have to stay in that moment. I can only stay in that moment if I keep my focus on Jesus. Is that hard to do for a whole day? Most of the time, YES! But can I do it for a moment? I can. And each moment can build on another until there are more and more moments of enjoyment during each day.
When I think of someone I know who enjoys one moment at a time, I think of a lady I’ve known from my church for close to 40 years. As someone who lives with a very debilitating form of rheumatoid arthritis, she has been through more surgeries and lived with more pain than most anyone I personally know. But if you have a conversation with Mary or even look at her countenance, you cannot fail to see the Joy that emanates from her. I think of her often when I am in the middle of my own physical pain from chronic migraines and often wonder how she continues to choose joy in pain. I think enjoying one moment at a time, while continually trusting in Jesus may be her key.
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace
How do you figure, right?? Again, there’s a key word here—pathway. We all are enduring hardships of various levels and some definitely more than others. In the middle of those hardships, it can be a challenge to find peace. But what if you knew that eventually there would be peace even if you cannot find it today. It may possibly not come until the resolution of the problem, but it may surprise you. As you are moving through the process and finding moments of enjoyment in the day, God’s peace can descend on you even while your current situation seems impossible.
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is,
not as I would have it
So much of my struggle with what I see going on in this world is due to the fact that I expect it should be different. People should be kind, loving, forgiving. Illness and pain are unfair. Injustice of every sort is unacceptable.
But then I have to remind myself of what God’s Word has told me. Pain, of every sort, is part of this broken, sinful world (1 Peter 4:12; John 16:33.) He promises He will be with us in our troubles, not that there won’t be any. When I can remember this, I am reminded that it is simply a fact, even if I don’t like it. We live in a sinful world full of sinful people who do sinful things. Yes, I would change it if I could! But it has been set in place since the Fall in the Garden of Eden and will continue until Jesus returns to Earth.
Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will
Do I trust Him? Truly trust Him? You and I have both seen plenty of times where things were not made right. We do know as believers that all things will be made right in the end. But what about here and now? In the midst of suffering? I believe the answer again is yes. When I surrender to His will, trusting Him for the process of things becoming right, I can find the peace I need to go through the pain.
When my Dad passed away from cancer at the age of 54 (younger than me!) the process of walking alongside both of my parents and sisters, continually praying for healing, watching the deterioration and the final outcome … it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through in my life. But once it was over, I could see that He had made all things right. He had delivered my Dad out of living in this sin-filled world with a body that had given out. My Dad was the real winner and someday I will join him!
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
This is one of my favorite lines in this prayer … “reasonably happy.” All those years when my husband and I were really struggling in our relationship, I just wanted to be “happy” like other people were. For some reason, this line set me free. Maybe “always happy” wouldn’t ever come to be, but “reasonably happy?” I could do “reasonably happy.” And that was enough for that time to keep me going. (As I shared in my What Does Marriage Commitment Look Like? post, we are more than reasonably happy now!!)
And supremely happy with Him forever in the next.
What a great final line! “Supremely happy … with Him … forever … in the next life.” What better promise is there than that for our day to day lives. It doesn’t end here!! Supremely happy is coming! You’ve probably heard the story of the dot or the dash describing our lives here on earth as only a tiny dot on the long continuum of time or the dash between your birth and death dates. Living it, it can feel like forever … but in reality, our lives here on earth are so short compared with our lives in eternity. I’ve heard it said that our 70-80 years on earth will all make sense our first 5 minutes in heaven. Won’t that be something?!
I don’t write any of this to minimize the pain, struggle, or injustice you or your family could be experiencing right now. Instead I hope it will encourage you to apply all 12 lines of this Serenity Prayer, and especially the last 8 lines to your situation and see if there might be a way to find enjoyment, peace, trust, surrender and a reasonably happy life, or at least moment, right now—today. Don’t wait for the crisis to end before you experience this in your life, because there will always be another crisis around the corner. Begin today to filter your trials through these 8 lines and see what kind of changes you begin to see in your heart and life. I’m hoping you will find “reasonable happiness” today.