Each week at our Thursday evening service we close with the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Neibuhr. Most everyone has heard or even memorized the first part of the prayer: “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.” This well-known prayer encourages us to accept our limitations and ask for God’s peace and wisdom in understanding those limitations. For all of the years I have repeated those words I had no idea there was more to that wonderful prayer.
The next part of this prayer trips me up every time I say it. Repeat these words: “Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will…” What does that even look like for God? Taking the world as it is? Does it mean that God takes us as we are? But wait…aren’t we supposed to be all pretty and clean for God so that He won’t notice all of our dirt? The answer is no! God loves us in spite of our messes. All of our brokenness! All of our pain! And here comes that trust word again. Because God loves us in all of our ugliness and unworthiness, we can trust that God will help make us right. When we surrender to God’s mercy and grace we can be the best of who we were created to be. That must be love! Because of God's example of love and acceptance, I am to accept the world as it is and not as I want it. It truly isn’t all about me and what I want. Jesus loves us as we are and because of this love and mercy he gave all he had, his life. We to can live for God, yes, but more than that, for others.
Finishing the pray, we understand that in our willingness to trust and surrender to God we are accepting grace, “So that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever and ever in the next. Amen (Reinhold Neibuhr). The prayer doesn’t leave us with any unreasonable expectations that life will be perfect when we surrender to Christ. That would be unrealistic and untrue. It says that we will be reasonably happy in this life. There will always be issues that besiege our lives, some worse than others. What this prayer gives us is hope. By trusting in God’s love and acceptance, whatever our brokenness, we can accept each other and ourselves with the same love and grace. Then the prayer ends with a promise that we will be “supremely” happy with God for all eternity – forever! Then it closes the deal with “Amen.”
This prayer in its entirety takes us on a realistic journey of recognition that we need someone to share in the brokenness of our daily lives. It shows us the gift of God’s grace, love and most importantly, the acceptance of who we are - just as we are. It also gives us hope in the promise that we are never alone now or for all eternity. It’s a promise that in the toughest of times, we can cling too and do our best to be “reasonably happy” in this life and know our future is Divinely blessed. “And all the people said, AMEN.”