Key to Serenity
In our life there are moments of great joy and moments of great pain. There are days of wonderful peace and days of painful, paralysing anxiety. And we need all of those things for life to be real. But when the worry, the anxiety, the fretting over things gets in the way how do we find our way to peace and serenity?
Many of us make our best decisions in a place of relative calm and stability. When we are highly anxious (I am not sure we are ever totally without anxiety – or that we should be) we may not be able to think things through thoroughly. So we need some amount of calmness, to be somewhat serene before making major decisions. But how do we get there?
Then there are the health costs and benefits. Our physical, mental, and emotional health suffers when we are always on edge. Maybe we don't sleep as well. Maybe our blood pressure goes up. Maybe our diet plan becomes a literary device. There is a reason that there are so many meditation techniques and CDs out there. Because we live in a culture of high stress and high anxiety and it is literally killing us. So how do we let go of the stress?
There are a number of possibilites. Here is one that some of you may have heard before [show video clip]
Now those of you who watched Seinfeld will likely agree that if anyone needs to learn how to calm himself and find a “quiet place” it would be Frank Costanza. Later in the episode we see Kramer using the words serenity now almost like a mantra in a semi-meditative state. We see George trying it. But as that episode unfolds it shows that the technique doesn't quite work for any of the characters. Indeed one later says “Serenity Now...insanity later”. And yet the theory Frank explains sounds logical. It is the basic idea of making choices, of controlling how we react, of setting up a bio-feedback loop. But it doesn't quite work. So what else is there?
One possibility is the one shared in AA. Acceptance. 12 Step programs have adopted Reinhold Neibuhr's prayer “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.” as a key part of their healing process. And there is wisdom in that.
Many of our anxieties are focused on things we don't or can't control. [The counter to that is that sometimes too little of our anxiety is focused on things we can/should control and change but that may be another sermon.] And so learning when it is time to accept things, even if that means watching people make really bad (in our mind) decisions, is part of a path to serenity, to calmness.
WE have just heard part of one person's story about how he discovered the relationship between accepting things for how they are and finding serenity in his life. Here is an excerpt from someone else's story (taken from http://alcoholism.about.com/cs/tools/a/102297.htm)
For me, serenity began when I learned to distinguish between those things that I could change and those I could not. When I admitted that there were people, places, things, and situations over which I was totally powerless, those things began to lose their power over me. I learned that everyone has the right to make their own mistakes, and learn from them, without my interference, judgement, or assistance!Now this is not to say this acceptance is easy. For example, it is SO tempting to just KNOW how our loved ones should act. Last weekend our keynote speaker suggested that we should only be allowed to parent other people's children. It is, after all, so much easier to know how they should do it. I might suggest that the same idea holds true in other parts of our lives. Some of us spend a whole lot of time worrying about “stuff”. Sometimes it is due to wishful thinking, we WISH we could do something. Sometimes it is because we feel that accepting something means we agree with what is happening. But for whatever reason sometimes we just have to “accept the things we cannot change”. There is a measure of serenity when we let go of those anxieties about things we can not change.
The key to my serenity is acceptance. But "acceptance" does not mean that I have to like it, condone it, or even ignore it. What it does mean is I am powerless to do anything about it... and I have to accept that fact.
Nor does it mean that I have to accept "unacceptable behavoir." Today I have choices. I no longer have to accept abuse in any form. I can choose to walk away, even if it means stepping out into the unknown. I no longer have to fear "change" or the unknown. I can merely accept it as part of the journey.
I spent years trying to change things in my life over which I was powerless, but did not know it. I threatened, scolded, manipulated, coerced, pleaded, begged, pouted, bribed and generally tried everything I could to make the situation better -- only watch as things always got progressively worse.
I spent so much time trying to change the things I could not change, it never once occurred to me to simply accept them as they were.
Now when things in my life are not going the way I planned them, or downright bad things happen, I can remind myself that whatever is going on is not happening by accident. There's a reason for it and it is not always meant for me to know what that reason is.
That change in attitude has been the key to happiness for me. I know I am not the only who has found that serenity.
But what if we simply can't let go? What if we can't find it within ourselves to accept things? What if they simply are not acceptable?
Let Go and Let God.
Many years ago I was wrestling with my own demons, my own need to sort things out and one of the suggestions I found in a book called “Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway” (a book I never fully finished but the title was worth it all on its own) was to post helpful sayings in a place where you would see them everyday. One of mine was Let Go and Let God. When we can't control something, when we find that it is out of our hands we need to do that.
In the end God is the true source of our peace, of our serenity (and sometimes of our urge to change things). God is the one who pushes us to change the things we can change. God is the one who moves us to accept, even if only temporarily, the things that we can't change. If we allow it to happen, God gives us the wisdom to know which is which.
The Psalmist writes “Be Still and know that I am God”. There is a great meditative exercise with that verse that helps bring me to a peaceful place [as an aside, this exercise was used as the Call to Worship during the Banff Men's Conference last month]. You find a quiet spot and slowly share the verse with yourself, breaking it down like this:
Be Still and Know that I am God
Be Still and Know That I AM
Be Still and Know
BETry it some time. Take a pause between each line for a couple of slow deep breaths. It centers you, it calms you, it brings you peace. And it reminds you that the most important thing for any of us is to BE. More important than anything we DO is that we are able to BE who God has formed us to be. And realizing that provides a path to more peace, more serenity, less anxiety.
Writing to the church in Phillipi Paul reminds the people:
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Paul had reasons to be anxious in his life. After all, he was imprisoned more than once. He would eventually be executed under the reign of Nero. He was preaching a counter-cultural, anti-Imperial message in a world where the Empire tended to strike back at such things. But he knows that he is able to do these thing because he is not alone. He reminds his friends and followers in Phillipi that they need do raise up their worries, their hopes, their lives to the God who is in charge. When they can do that, then the peace of God will walk with and guard them.
The same advice holds for us. When we need peace, when we need to have our anxiety eased, when we need to find a serene oasis in the midst of a anxiety-producing world, we turn to God. God is the one who can helps us find the acceptance our AA stories talk about. God is the one who reminds us that we are not in charge of everything – God is. The true source, the true Key to Serenity is not in chanting or yelling Serenity Now. It is not in trying to make everything “right”. The true Key to Serenity is to turn to God.
It may not happen instantly. It may be a passing thing, a moment of serenity rather than a lifetime. But when we turn to God, when we remember that God is in charge (even if sometimes it seems evident that God is not in control – we will talk about whether God is in control next week), when we allow ourselves to Let Go, to Be Still, then we allow ourselves access to the peace of God that is always available.
The world is great at building anxiety. Our lives sometimes lurch from one thing to another. For the sake of our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health, we need to find a path to serenity. We need to find the way to open ourselves to the peace of God. May God helps us in our quest for serenity, wisdom, and balance in life.
And now we pray together the words of Reinhold Neibuhr...
God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.