|UNITY OF VANCOUVER
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Living the Prayer of Serenity
Reverend Bernadette Voorhees
September 18, 2022
All Rights Reserved
PRAYER / MEDITATION
Close your eyes and relax deeply into your chair. Take a slow, deep breath and feel the presence of God within you and all around you. Feel the depth of inner peace that practicing the Presence of God brings.
Now draw your attention to the center of your forehead, the seat of faith and your power of imagination. Picture a pure and perfect crystal blue sky. Now imagine a large pure white, puffy, cloud floating into view in that blue sky and see yourself floating on it. As you create a scene of heavenly peace, see it clearly and let it completely fill your mind’s eye and flood your senses. Let it still your thoughts and lift your heart. Feel your oneness with with God and all creation in the silence of prayer.
As you float high above the earth on your cloud of white, there may be outer turbulence--winds of change—around you and on on the earth far below but you are serene in God’s presence and transcending the noise and chaos in perfect peace. Take a slow, deep breath of fresh air and let it go, all the while staying within the sense of serenity that silence and deep breathing brings. As you rest in the silence of prayer, aware of your breath flowing in and out, imagining a perfect, pure blue sky and feeling yourself floating on a large white, cloud over the earth and over all human problems you are reminded of who and what you are. Silently affirm: There is only one presence and power, in the universe and in my life, God the good omnipotent. You are one with God and the truth about you is that you are a child of God, a spiritual being. Let the truth set you free and bring you peace.
You are in the world but not of it as you float silently on your cloud in the sky and as the cloud now softly brings you back down to your seat here in this Sanctuary and safely back on earth.
For the serenity practicing the presence brings, we are grateful. Thank You God! Amen.
LIVING THE SERENITY PRAYER – 9/18/2022
At the beginning of this millennium, editors of the World Almanac selected what they thought to be “the most memorable quotes by Americans in the last 100 years.” One of their top 10 was: “God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”
If you are familiar with Alcoholics Anonymous, have ever read Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ or saw the Denzel Washington movie ‘Flight,’ then you have encountered the Serenity Prayer. The prayer has worked its way into so many cultural outlets that many non-Christians know some form of it, or at least the beginning, by heart. “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.”
Written by Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr between 1936-1940, at least in the English and German speaking worlds, it is one of the most famous prayers originated in modern times. It is perhaps the only prayer ever to rival the Lord’s Prayer in popularity. It has given inspiration and comfort to millions of people.
According to its website, Alcoholics Anonymous adopted it and began including it in AA materials in 1942. This is interesting because Niebuhr didn’t formally publish it himself until 1951. But many people, Niebuhr included, concede that some form of the prayer had been around for centuries and was circulating and already well known in 1936 when he began including it in his worship services. The prayer isn’t part of any religion’s liturgy and is truly a non-sectarian prayer. I’ve put the prayer as originally written by its author on your program today. Let’s read it together.
SERENITY PRAYER by REINHOLD NIEBUHR
God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, taking as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it, trusting that You will make all things right, if I surrender to Your Will, so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.
There are actually three parts to just the first part of the Serenity Prayer. The first part asks for “The serenity to accept the things that can not be changed.” The second part asks for “The courage to change the things that can and should be changed.” The third part asks for “The wisdom to know the difference” between things that can and cannot be changed. The key to serenity is having the wisdom to distinguish between the first two parts: “to know what in life to try to change and what in life to simply accept because it cannot be changed.”
In other words, Serenity has its time and place, Courage has its time and place, and Wisdom is the ability to know whether it’s a time and place for Serenity or a time and place for Courage. Being resigned to a situation that can and should be changed really isn’t Serenity. It is complacency. Trying to change something that is just a fact of reality isn’t Courage so much as foolishness. Therefore, we don’t want to use Serenity to deal with situations that really call for Courage and we don’t want to use courage to deal with situations that are really calling for Serenity. On the human or Ego level of mind, the problem is that our self-deception, denial, inherent prejudices and fear often make it hard for us to tell these two kinds of situations apart. Sometimes we trick ourselves into just accepting something that really is our responsibility to take care of because we are afraid of dealing with it. In that case, the quality that we need to call upon from inside ourselves is Courage and not Serenity. At other times, in our drive to control people, places and things, we may be convinced that if we just try harder, come on stronger or give things another chance, we will be able to alter some aspect of reality to be more to our liking. On the Ego level of mind, we believe reality ought to be different than it is and we just need more grit and gumption to hang on and to see things through when what we really need is the ability to let go and let God. We don’t need Courage in that situation. We need Serenity. So, we pray to our Higher Power to give us the Wisdom that will guide us in honestly assessing all situations so that we will come to the right decision at the right time to make the choice of whether we need to call upon our inner trait of Serenity or Courage.
A general guideline that many people have found helpful is called the “Me-You Principle.” If something needs to change, it needs to change ‘in me.’ If something ‘about you’ seems to be ‘my problem,’ then what I really need to do is to realize that you are who you are, right now and accept that truth. When I do that, I don’t waste my precious life energy trying to change you. This means that I have more physical, mental, psychic and spiritual energy available to call upon from within myself to use to change myself. When I stop trying to force changes on you and I work on changing myself, I seem to have a lot less problems with you. Behind all the changes we try to make in life, behind all our desires to change, behind all the wishes we have to bring new things into our lives, and even the wishes to leave old things out of our lives, lies the simple desire to feel serene--to feel inner peace. Getting something in the outer doesn’t give us that inner feeling that we are searching and longing to experience.
A lot of us are prisoners of our own desires. We are prisoners to the things we want or the things we tell ourselves that we feel we have to have in order to be happy. Have you ever felt the pain of not having what you tell yourself that you have to have but don’t have?
When you feel that kind of pain recognize it as the price that you are paying right now for not being content and realizing that God is everywhere present in this now moment. If you feel that pain often enough or long enough and allow yourself to stay in the moment and speak the words of the Prayer of Serenity, the pain itself will lead you to freedom because by speaking these words, you are acknowledging God’s existence and recognizing that only God can bring you inner peace regardless of chaotic circumstances. God brings a depth of Serenity that can not be found anywhere else.
Philippians 4:7 says,“His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Until we allow the ‘Peace of God’ to enter into our minds and hearts, we will never experience that ultimate peace that defies the most severe circumstances in life.
There is another much older Serenity Prayer recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. I’m sure you’ve heard it before and that you will recognize Jesus’ words as I read them to you now from the Gospel of Matthew 6:31-33. “Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life--what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body--what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air. They neither sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns. And yet, your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
And which of you, by being anxious, can add one cubit to his or her span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They neither toil nor spin. Yet, I tell you, even Solomon in all His glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? Therefore, be not anxious saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” But seek first God’s Kingdom and God’s righteousness and all these things shall be yours as well.” We have all heard the last part of Jesus’ speech many times because it is the true task of the spiritual quest. “Seek first God’s Kingdom and God’s righteousness and all these things shall be yours as well.” To paraphrase Jesus’ words, “To be serene and know happiness, put God first in your life.”
Think about your life for just a moment and ask yourself. Do I put God first in my life? Have I ever thought about what my life would look like if I really made a commitment to put God first so that God speaks and acts through me? You must make a conscious decision to stop living a life centered in the physical world and Ego Mind believing you are only a limited human being. Then, you must make a conscious decision to start living your life centered in God. You must make a conscious decision to choose to act and react from your Christ Mind and the realization that you are an eternal spiritual being.
In our last two lessons I have pointed out that the Bible is a book about relationships. The Bible highlights that our relationship with God is a relationship or connection of oneness. We are “created in the image and likeness of God and co-creators with God.”
This means that everything and every trait that is in God is also equally present within us. “We live, move and have our being in God.” Like a wave is part of the ocean and has all the same elements in it as the water around it. Just like Ice, Water and Steam are three forms of the same substance, H2O. The Bible tells us over and over again that putting God first means loving God, but on a deeper level it means loving yourself. So, ask yourself, Do I love and treat myself as well as I treat others?
A woman seeking inner peace told her Minister, “Sometimes I just don’t love myself. I tend to be hard on myself and critical. Because of this fact, I tend to want and need other people to approve of me and to give me credit for whatever I do. I want and need this recognition because I don’t give myself enough credit. I am much more considerate, thoughtful, and caring of others than I am of myself.” Does that sound familiar? Have you ever felt that way?
Her Minister suggested that she find a quiet spot to sit down in and to mentally put herself in a seat across from where she was sitting as if she was really talking to someone else and to ask herself, “So, tell me, why don’t you like me?” After she did this, she was asked to return to share what if anything, she had learned from the experience. On returning she told her Minister, “I asked the question, and I was surprised to hear an answer come flying back like a shot.” A voice within me said, “Because I can’t trust you.” So, I asked, “Why not?”
The answer came, “Because you don’t do what you say you are going to do.” She said, “Sure I do.” The reply: “Sure you do for other people. For others you are very dependable.” She said, “I thought about that and it’s true. If I make a promise to someone else, I will almost always certainly keep it. I keep my word to everyone but one person, and that one person is me.
I have a bad habit of taking my promises to myself too lightly. I’ll tell myself I’m going to exercise when I get home from work. But when I get home, I often don’t feel like it, so I won’t do it. I tell myself I deserve a break. I’ve been working all day. If I say, I’m going to get up tomorrow one hour earlier to meditate, when the alarm goes off and I still feel sleepy, I turn the alarm off and just keep sleeping. I always thought this was a way of taking care of myself. I told myself, I need the sleep, or I need the rest. I realize now that I need to keep the promises, I make to myself as well as to others, because keeping promises to myself is an important element to loving and honoring myself as a beloved child of God.”
People don’t always give us the support and praise that we feel we deserve or need, not because they are bad people but because we must learn to give that support and love to ourselves first. This is an important part of putting God first. It is recognizing your Christ Self and seeing God working in and through you. “There is only one Presence and one power in the universe and in my life, God the God Omnipotent.” If we “Seek first to know God” and to put the Presence of God into every activity, then Serenity is ours. Or, to paraphrase the words of Jesus, “Serenity will be added unto you.”
Let’s summarize this lesson by taking a quick look at 5 timeless truths the Serenity Prayer reveals that challenge us to re-examine what Serenity really is.
1. Acceptance. The Serenity Prayer reminds us of the importance of acceptance. We often devote our attention to the “Things we cannot change.” We squander physical, emotional, mental, psychic, and spiritual energy that could be directed elsewhere. Accepting that there are some things we cannot change doesn’t make us complacent or lazy. It takes a leap of faith as an ability to trust, as the prayer goes on to say, “that He, or the universe or time, will make all things right if I surrender to His Will.” We thus make the choice to let go and have faith in a loving God of good outcomes.
2. We must have courage to change ourselves. One of life’s greatest challenges is imagining how our life could be different than it is right now. Often, our deeply ingrained habits are our own worst enemies, and simply identifying them, as the woman did in the story, I shared is half the battle. Habits, whether they are bad and destructive or good and constructive gain power through repetition. It takes focus and perspective to take an honest look at ourselves and our habits and ask, “Is this really how I want to live?” The prayer states, this act of self-inventory is an act of “spiritual courage.” As Alexander Solzhenitsyn asked in his 1968 book about the Russian Gulag system called The First Circle, “If you want to put the world to rights, who should you begin with: yourself or others?”
3. Hardship can be good for you. Psychiatrist Carl Jung said, “Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better to take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.” 1 Peter 4:12 says, “Don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you.”
When we stop viewing obstacles as frustrations and failures and start seeing and using them as opportunities for growth and learning, we can transcend our circumstances. As the prayer states, “Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace.”
4. Surrendering requires courage too. The word “surrender” often has negative connotations. We associate it with resignation, failure, and weakness. But the Serenity Prayer reframes the notion of surrender as an act of faith and trust. The wisdom of the Serenity Prayer lies in exchanging a life of endless “what ifs” for a life of trust in a power greater and beyond ourselves. The Bible tells us that going through trials makes us stronger if in our times of weakness, we learn to rely on God’s strength. We don’t always understand the “why” of things that happen and we don’t always need to as it is written in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord God. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” And then again in Hebrews 13:5, God says, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Never is a very long time. But how could it be any different? God is just waiting for us to wake up and remember that we are one.
5. Happiness is attainable — now and in the future. If we follow the prayer’s advice, we may be “reasonably happy in this life.” At a time when our culture measures happiness and success mostly in terms of money and power, that word “reasonably” stands out as an appealingly modest definition of a successful life. Rather than wondering, “Why aren’t I happier?” The prayer invites us to focus on the present, “Living one day at a time and enjoying one moment at a time.”
Whether or not you believe in God or an afterlife and whether or not the original prayers’ ending; a vision of being “Supremely happy with God forever in the next” appeals to you or not, there’s something universal in the prayer’s quiet celebration of understanding your own potential, your own limits and your own capacity for transfiguration and transcendence.
One way of defining Serenity is to say that it is a feeling of being calm and tranquil; a state of being where people are untroubled by the ups and downs in life. American Psychiatrist and Psychoanalyst Thomas Szasz provides another way of looking at serenity. He said, “Boredom is the feeling that everything is a waste of time; serenity, is the feeling that nothing is.”
Developing faith doesn’t mean that the individual is expected to adopt any particular religious ideas. It is referring to confidence in the idea that, “When people do the right things the right things will happen to them.” There will be a great deal in life that the individual has no control over, but the fact that they are trying to live a better life according to the spiritual law of mind action, means that life will get better.
As we deepen our understanding of God, we build a personal relationship with God that finally makes God real to us. It is the experience of God that changes our life. Walking the talk and Living the Serenity Prayer can bring us to that experience.
RATE THE FOLLOWING STATEMENTS______1. I regularly read and study spiritual literature.
NEVER - 1 SELDOM - 2 OCCASIONALLY- 3 FREQUENT- 4 ALWAYS - 5
______2. I believe spiritual literature provides instruction for a foundation in life.
______3. I evaluate cultural ideas and lifestyles by spiritual principles.
______4. I can answer questions about life and faith from a spiritual perspective.
______5. I replace impure or inappropriate thoughts by use of spiritual tools and practices.
______6. I demonstrate honesty in my actions and conversation. My works and actions match.
______7. When spiritual inventory exposes an area of my life needing change, I respond to make things right.
______8. Generally, my public and private self are the same.
______9. I use spiritual principles to guide the way I think and act.
______10. I study spiritual literature for the purpose of discovering truth for daily living.
______11. I listen quietly when someone else is talking, giving them my full attention.
______12. I choose my words carefully and kindly when I speak, observing how others receive them.
______13. I ask clarifying questions to be sure I understand what someone is saying to me, before jumping to conclusions.
______14. I repeat, summarize, or paraphrase what I heard someone say when someone speaks to me, to be sure I understand correctly what they meant.
______15. I observe how the other person is feeling, making only observational statements when emotion is displayed. (i.e., “It appears you are sad.”)
______16. I stay focused on the topic at hand that the other person wants to discuss, instead of rambling off on my own experiences, opinions, or feelings.
______17. I stand up for myself when it is appropriate to do so. I ask for what I need in a respectful way.
______18. I give my full attention to the other person, facing them, and looking at them while they speak.
______19. I am careful with my words, my attitude, and my tone of voice, because I know that I influence others around me.
______20. My words and actions match.
What do you think?
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