Re-Engage with a sense of Acceptance
Time magazine named Reinhold Niebuhr the most influential American theologian since Jonathan Edwards. Many of us do not know his name. Niebuhr was an American reformed theologian, ethicist, commentator on politics and public affairs and professor at Union Theological Seminary for more than 30 years. Born June 21, 1892, he died almost a century later June 1, 1971. He is probably most known for writing the Serenity Prayer for AA. Most of us are familiar with the first paragraph of his prayer. It is recited daily in Alcoholic Anonymous groups around the world.
As much as the words… God give me the serenity… bring me instant peace and a sense of calm; it is a sentence found later in the prayer that touches my soul. Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace. Taking as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it.
After we have experienced hurt, grief, loss and pain it is easier to shut off, build a wall and live in the safety a small perimeter. That reaction is a natural self-protective coping mechanism. As I have reflected on what hurts me and how I cope by insulating myself from more hurt it generally stems from a misinformed thought. The thought is: “If I was doing it right, I wouldn’t get hurt.” And “When I finally get it right, I won’t hurt any more.”
Martin Seligman the father of positive psychology writes in his book Flourish:
“Instead of expecting struggle, hurt and misery to end, we need to maximize blessing, gratitude and wonder.” These words ring true to something Jesus said: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) It seems that Jesus, God in human form, got it. He didn’t sugar coat our reality on earth. The red letters in John read that we will have trouble. It is a guarantee.
Its easy to confuse the American dream with faithful following. We might think that if we follow Jesus right, we will be rewarded. While man times we are spared excess pain by doing things God’s way; following Jesus can often lead to abandonment, misunderstanding and loneliness. Jesus’ ways are counter-cultural. During the times when we feel alone on the mountain top, Jesus can be our truest, most loyal friend. In Cloud/Townsend’s book Safe People they write: “In Jesus we find dwelling, grace and truth.”
So one hundred years ago Niebhur took all his knowledge of God with is understanding of this world and suggested that we pray: Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace. The serenity prayer is a tool many people use daily to stay grounded and find peace. Our job is not to expect perfection this side of heaven but to live in the spirit of acceptance for what this day brings - both the good and the bad.
Looking to Re-Engage: Consider printing a copy of the entire Serenity prayer and attaching it to your fridge or bathroom mirror. Post it in a place where you might see it a few times a day. Read it! The theology is sound and you may be surprised how often one stanza comes to mind in the midst of a conflict.