Scott Gunn: How to find serenity in difficult times

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Sometimes it seems like the world is spinning out of control. The stock market is volatile. Violence seems to be spreading everywhere. In this age of globalism, new diseases travel quickly. Even our families and homes may not be the havens of peace for which we long.

What are we do to? How can we find serenity in difficult times?

An American pastor and theologian named Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) lived through his own difficult times. He was first and foremost a pastor, and no doubt he wanted to assure his flock that God’s love and grace are stronger than the challenges we face.

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In the 1930s, Niebuhr wrote a lovely prayer we now call the Serenity Prayer. The most widely known version goes like this:

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.

Before long, this striking prayer was adopted by the 12-step recovery movement, especially Alcoholics Anonymous. And it’s been beloved by millions ever since.

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The Serenity Prayer offers just what we need in our time too.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…”

In reality, there are challenges and hardships in our lives that we cannot control. The stock market is not something I can change. It does us no good to be anxious about the things we cannot ever change. In fact, the only thing I CAN control is my own reaction to what is happening.

“…Courage to change the things I can…”

On the other hand, there ARE things I can change. If I have a broken relationship with a friend or family member, I can work toward reconciliation. And I can always work on how I respond to all the difficulties and uncertainties I face.

“…and wisdom to know the difference.”

The key is to stay calm through our challenges and decide where we can make a difference and where we cannot. If I try this on my own, I will usually get it wrong. But by God’s grace and wisdom, I might know what I simply need to accept and what I need to work to change.

The stock market is not something I can change. It does us no good to be anxious about the things we cannot ever change. In fact, the only thing I CAN control is my own reaction to what is happening.

In fact, this is the whole point of the Serenity Prayer — to be at peace with things I cannot change and to be mindful of those things I can change. We need God to help us rise above our own fears and anxieties.

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I think in our world, we often get all this backward. We become anxious over things that we’ll never be able to shape or affect. And we fail to realize all those times when we can make a difference. What if we got this right more often?

Imagine if our lives were shaped by God’s wisdom rather than by a culture of fear. Imagine if we had the courage to mend those broken things we can fix, rather than giving up. Imagine if we listened for God’s wisdom instead of responding to challenges out of our basest instincts.

Yes, there are real challenges in our world and in our lives. This has been true from the beginning of human existence. This year is not the most difficult year ever in world history. Taking a broader perspective might help us face our very real challenges while also committing ourselves to make a difference where we can.

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God’s wisdom is just what we need.

Of course, there are times when we’re afraid. But we need not be governed by our fears. Instead, let us be people who seek the peace of God which passes all understanding.

Pray with me, will you?

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.

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