The Serenity Prayer has a long and rather mysterious history. The first three lines were made popular by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892 -1971), as part of a 1934 lecture. The modern prayer is several lines longer. In 1941, the prayer was noticed and later adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous. Over the past 60 years the prayer has gone far beyond AA boundaries. It is especially instructive for anyone longing to be an apprentice of Jesus. For the next eight Sundays, (November 6 – December 24), this blog will feature one phrase or cluster of phrases from this beautiful prayer. I hope this series will create motivation and direction in the new year. Check out past posts by clicking on the Category and then Serenity Prayer on the home page of this blog.
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“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 hardship as the pathway to peace;”
Hardship or happiness. Which would you choose? The Serenity Prayer suggests that if our goal is to be at peace, “hardship” is what we should value. Happiness is comfortable, but hardship teaches us what we need to learn.
What exactly is a hardship? The hardships referred to in Serenity Prayer are not inconveniences like waiting 20 minutes for a train to pass, running out of bread, losing a library book, or being too sick to go on vacation. The dictionary lists the following words as synonyms for hardship: adversity, destitution, suffering, poverty. The death of a spouse, incurable or serious illness, betrayal by a friend, dysfunction within families, loss of a job, loss of your home, floods, fires, and other natural disasters, not enough money to feed your children – these are hardships.
Many people are able to say that they have learned the most from their suffering or hardship. But it’s a level beyond that to say that our hardship is our “pathway to peace.” Can this be true? I venture to say that yes, hardship is our teacher – if we are willing to be a student. And the lesson we are studying is finding peace. How does that work?
First, hardship peels away our tough outer public shell and exposes who we really are and what we really believe. We are forced to examine our values. Do we value our social standing, or do we value our integrity? Do we value our productivity or do we value our relationships – especially with God? Do we value approval or do value truth? Do we value security or we value the risks of love? When we lose what we think we value most, is our faith still strong and vibrant? When hardship brings us face to face with who we really are, the journey to peace can begin.
Second, hardship teaches us detachment. Do we expect good health? Illness teaches us to detach from that expectation. Are we proud of our wealth and/or focused on our financial security? Financial setbacks help us gain perspective on the importance and wise use of money. Do we need the approval of others? Rumors, political disagreements, jealousies, misunderstandings, and raised eyebrows or outright attacks on social media can help us see how fleeting that approval really is. Detachment from wishes and expectations helps us become more “attached” to God, our rock and our salvation.
Here’s what Scripture says about hardship and peace:
“Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7, CEB).
“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way” (James 1: 2-4, MSG).
And listen to what Jesus calls us to do with hardship – and the result we will find: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
So, hardship or happiness. What do we choose? Ultimately we can have both, if we change the word “happiness” to peace or joy or rest. Walking confidently with God through hardship ultimately is the pathway to peace and joy.