Wisdom comes before serenity
At the end of the hallway, near the laundr y room hung a sign in my parents house. The picture was inscribed with a short prayer that many of us are likely familiar with in some variation.
“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.”
I must’ve had it memorized by the time I was 5, just something to read as I walked down the hall. Of course, being at that age you’re likely to read everything. All the words, all the places, but you don’t really fully grasp the content of what you are reading. Nonetheless, it was cemented early on in my memor y.
Fast forward some 30 odd years and those words still stick in my mind, I can recite them at any given time. Putting them into practice though, a completely different story.
Serenity is an odd word, and not one we use commonly in this particular day and age, unless you are in to meditation, I suppose. The state of being calm, peaceful and untroubled, according to Webster. I’d be willing to bet most of us aren’t.
But it is a worthwhile endeavor to accomplish this state of being. Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr, the author of what we now know as the Serenity Prayer, was an American theologian. Although he lived just 78 years, consider this. Niebuhr was born in 1892 and died in 1971. Imagine, the transformations he saw take place first hand in this country during that time span.
Ironically, Niebuhr was both a Christian minister and a staunch supporter of the Democratic party, a concept which by today’s thought seems to be mutually exclusive of each other.
According to a biography of Niebuhr by Richard Fox, Niebuhr repeatedly stressed the need to be loyal to America. All German American culture in the United States and nearby Canada had come under attack for suspicion of having dual loyalties. Niebuhr won an audience in national magazines for his appeals to the German Americans to be patriotic. Is the parallel clear? In the Journal of Presbyterian History, this was said of Niebuhr, “Theologically, he went beyond the issue of national loyalty as he endeavored to fashion a realistic ethical perspective of patriotism and pacifism. He endeavored to work out a realistic approach to the moral danger posed by aggressive powers, which many idealists and pacifists failed to recognize. During the war, he also served his denomination as Executive Secretary of the War Welfare Commission, while maintaining his pastorate in Detroit. A pacifist at heart, he saw compromise as a necessity and was willing to support war in order to find peace — compromising for the sake of righteousness.”