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.
This is a famous prayer. It marks the conclusion of an AA or Al-Anon, or other 12-step program, in many a church basement or parish hall. But, it was not written for that purpose. The prayer is attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, scholar and theologian, for soldiers during WWI.
It is a prayer of reconciliation, asking God to help the heart reconcile what was, with what is, with what is possible. We can get stuck in regret, giving all our energy to lament and guilt. We can also get stuck in helplessness, giving up all our energy in despair.
This prayer helps with that. Reminding me of just how much power I have. Instead of getting stuck in the past, I can acknowledge the pain, feel it, honor the truth of it and accept it. Instead of giving in to despair I can acknowledge the challenges and obstacles, honor and accept there is too much for me to do alone, but there is something I can do. When I have this heartfelt wisdom, I can be at peace in the midst of brokenness.
We cannot fix or solve every problem, heal every disease or cure every illness. We cannot pretend the past did not happen. Nor can we pretend that entrenched systems within our society serve everyone with equity. It is because of this ever-present reality God gives us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:19). It is because of this reality Jesus gives us a peace the world cannot give (John 14:27). We are empowered to reconcile relations in ways deeper than superficial niceties (Philippians 4).
How do we reconcile our hearts with so many hard truths in our lives? We pray the serenity prayer. We acknowledge our grief along with our joy. We find people and spaces where we can share honestly and listen wholeheartedly. We bring together the parts of ourselves we would rather deny. We bring together the parts of our society we would rather ignore. And we ask God to help us accept what we cannot change, give us courage to change the things we can and the wisdom to know the difference.
Reconciliation is a process that lasts a lifetime. For we are reconciling all things to God, just as God reconciled God’s self to us. (2 Cor 5:19)
How are you part of the ministry of reconciliation? Is God inviting you into this work in a new way?