Serenity Prayer: From the Bottom Up and Why I Think it Should Be Known As the WISDOM Prayer

inspiration into action | happy living“… 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.”
(Reinhold Niebuhr)

We’re told we live in the information age and yet, fundamentally, information is only a sequence of symbols that carry a message. Those messages can be amassed into knowledge, but knowledge is really just a familiarity with something or someone, which can include facts, information, descriptions or skills.

Wisdom, on the other hand, is a very different thing. Wisdom is the judicious application of knowledge. It is a deep understanding of and realization about people, things, events or situations and how they interrelate. To make impactful lasting change, neither information nor knowledge alone is adequate; one must have wisdom.

To have courage does not mean you do not have fear or that things are easy. In fact, the definition of courage is making change despite the fact that it is hard or frightening. It is through wisdom and then courage that change is possible.

Many will think of serenity as a passive state. On the contrary, serenity is active, and it is not the same as surrender. Serenity starts with forgiveness. One of the most difficult human challenges is to respond to hate or adversity with kindness. We are all touched by the heartwarming story of a person responding this way and yet when we are confronting a life challenge, our default reactions are often anger, angst, depression, anxiety, hate or any other destructive emotion we experience.

So, why should we forgive? Your enemy, your illness, may not deserve forgiveness, but you deserve to be free. Holding on to destructive emotions only strengthens your illness or enemy. Letting go of those emotions and replacing them with love, compassion and kindness will have a profoundly positive impact on you. Ancient wisdom tells us “where love meets adversity, compassion is born.”

Next we ask – how do we forgive? Remember that the root of the word forgive means to “untie”. We forgive by untying ourselves from the bonds of destructive emotions surrounding our illnesses or unwanted life circumstances. We forgive through wisdom. We must understand that the best antidote is to live a happy and successful life even with our limitations and disabilities, rather than railing against them. And we must be compassionate with ourselves: So often our self-talk is unkind and destructive. Speak to yourself as you would speak to your best friend, in your most compassionate voice.

You may be wondering why I chose to begin the prayer with “…” when this is a prayer attributed to (but undoubtedly predating) the great theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and starting with the word “God”. So, isn’t it disrespectful of me not to begin with the word “God”?  I sincerely hope not. I have chosen to use the ellipsis (…) in place of the word “God” because it’s my way of expressing the idea that God is bigger than that which can be known. Each individual has a concept of God but each of our concepts is only a part of the wholeness of God.  So the use of the ellipsis (…) is an attempt to enlarge our understanding of a word used to describe the all and the everything. It is an attempt to have each of us pause and think about the word “God” by the very fact of its absence, and to ponder what it means to us. Whether it is “Einstein’s God,” “My God”, or “Your God”, it is an immense word that requires much reflection on our part.

So, what’s my personal take on the word, as the author of this post? Well, certainly God should be a concept more about uniting us than dividing us. Here’s an interesting observation: An ellipsis is three dots, a Trinity, isn’t it? Or is it the “Three Sons of Abraham”, the commonality of Christianity, Judaism and Islam (and perhaps Bahai)? Or is it a symbol of the multiple faces of God in the Hindu faith or the complexity of interconnectedness of the Buddhist or Taoist faith or Animism? Or is it a Humanists’ vision? It could be any and all of these things. What divides us is the petty concern of man: What unites us is the divine concern of God.

One of my fundamental beliefs about being human is that we are uniquely able to exercise control over that moment in time between stimulus and response. If you apply an electric current to an earth worm it has no choice but to recoil from the stimulus. A thoughtful, present human being can exercise the full spectrum of human responses to those stimuli. In one context it could be anger and in another, laughter. The uniquely human attribute is the ability to choose to express love and compassion in that moment between stimulus and response. And that, dear reader, requires wisdom.

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