In the past few months, the words to the Serenity Prayer became more meaningful for me and gave insight into the nature of being fully human. I’ve written before about surrender and letting go in other blog entries but this was a bit different. This was a gentler insight of “ahh, so this what the folks in recovery are talking about.”
The Serenity Prayer is traditionally associated with twelve step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. “Lord, 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.”
I’ve known people with addictions. I’ve known and know people in recovery. I’ve rejoiced over their achievements and cried over their stumbles. Some overcame incredible odds and rebuilt their once shattered lives. I’ve witnessed some reunite with their children who had been removed by child welfare agencies. And I’ve known the heartache of seeing some die from addiction.
I’ve come to believe we are all addicted to something. The Buddhists teach that suffering, dissatisfaction, stress, anxiety or what they call dukkha is caused by deep rooted desires or cravings tanha within us. These cravings appear as deep desires for sensual enjoyment, material gains, or a desire for permanence (immortality). (Sometimes it is a desire to NOT experience or feel, to be numb.) I believe these cravings create barriers to our being fully human, fully awakened, fully alive, But I believe when we become mindful of those things, when we become awakened to those things we think and believe will make us happier, more peaceful, more popular, more [fill in the blank with your more], we can recover from “addiction.”
Several Christian mystics, including St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare of Assisi, prayed and meditated on the suffering of Jesus at the Crucifixion. They did not dwell on the futility and senselessness of it but instead found comfort in Jesus’ acceptance and surrender. (Philippians 2:8-11)
Brene Brown, one of my favorite writers and motivational speakers said in her TED talk in 2010 that we are the most in-debt, obese, addicted, and medicated adult cohort in the USA. In general, we’re terribly attached to “stuff” and “things” but we keep consuming and buying. We overeat or don’t eat the right stuff. We consume an enormous amount of substances to soothe hurts, combat the fear, or ease loneliness. In 2016, Scientific America reported 1 in 6 Americans take a psychiatric drug. (If my math is right, almost 17% of the American population takes a psychiatric drug.) We engage in social media, watch endless videos of indifferent cats, dogs surfing or the latest stupid human trick (thanks David Letterman) or worse, reading the threads of posted commentary, or viewing viral videos.
We are more connected through social media, texting, and emails but more and more Americans report profound feelings of loneliness. Everybody seems to be on their phone appearing to be connected yet feeling alone. Some are so addicted to their phone/screen they walk head down on city streets!
It’s easy to get bummed out and overwhelmed by this. But hold that thought. Return to the Serenity prayer. Sit with the words slowly breathing in and breathing out. “God, help me to accept the things I cannot change”.
Sit for a moment and think of the things that cause you stress and anxiety. Consider how “attached” you are to them or how you feel when you don’t have them or lost them. Ponder news events and notice how you feel. Do you long for change? Have you “wished” for things to be different? Wanting or desiring causes suffering/stress/anxiety. Praying “help me to accept the things I cannot change” releases those cravings and desires.
What are the things you cannot change? What would you like to change? What have wished would change and it hasn’t? Are their things from the past you cannot change and yet, you still lament being unable to change them? What would it be like if you stopped lamenting the past and accepted? How would it be if you accepted a part of something you can’t change? Or all of it? What is hard to accept? Why? Who might you have to forgive to accept? Who do you have to accept in order to forgive?
If you haven’t quite fully accepted something, keep surrendering it and keep praying over and over again until you are able to fully accept. It may take some time. Be patient with yourself.
(This blog is not intended to serve as individual spiritual direction. Spiritual direction or companioning is typically done face to face in a confidential setting. If you would like to explore one on one spiritual direction, or your faith community or small group would like to experience group spiritual direction, please contact me. In the meantime, my hope is that the photos and this blog serve as a pause in your day, food for thought or just a reminder to breathe in and breathe out all that is holy and good. The Divine Milieu is all around us. Thank you all for your prayers and support.)
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