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Archive for March, 2020

You may be familiar with the infamous “Patience Prayer,” which goes as follows:

    “Lord, please give me patience — and give it to me now!”

Seriously, you undoubtedly know how the famous Serenity Prayer goes:

    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.

The prayer, attributed to the great 20th-century theologian and preacher Reinhold Niebuhr, is so powerful that Alcoholics Anonymous incorporated it into its great recovery program.

But that one sentence is the condensed version of The Serenity Prayer, with the remainder of it taking an abrupt and rather strange turn. The entire prayer goes as follows:

Hardship: the pathway to peace?

    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.

    Living one day at a time;

    Enjoying one moment at a time;

    Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;

    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;

    That I may be reasonably happy in this life
    and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.
    Amen.

It’s difficult with the pall currently cast over the world to live, as the prayer alludes to, one day at a time, or even to enjoy one moment. And I’m not sure many people see the acceptance of “hardships as the way to peace.”

Yet the Apostle Paul definitely believed that hard times were a pathway to peace. He wrote the following words about finding contentment (being at peace) in Chapter 4 of his letter to the Philippians:

    10) I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it.

    11) Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have.

    12) I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.

    13) I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Paul wrote those words from a most unpleasant jail cell. And we are told in the book of Acts that when he and his companion Jonas shared a cell with their feet in stocks, they joyously sang hymns. (See here for the whole story.)

Paul not only accepted hardship, he befriended it. He embraced it. To borrow a phrase from today’s vernacular, “Paul rolled with it.”

In those times and places where he had little or no control over a situation, Paul “went with the flow,” as they say, trusting in and drawing strength from God.

These days we think of a hardship as being “stuck with the kids” or “chained” to the couch or the home office or the back yard. What we consider hardships are in fact mere inconveniences.

There is a meme circulating on Facebook that says:

    Your grandparents were called to war. You’ve been called to stay on the couch. You can do this.”

* * *

We Americans have a bad habit of wanting everything that can possibly bring us comfort, pleasure and entertainment — and we want it NOW! Never mind that we can’t always get what we want.

In fact, with no offense to the Rolling Stones, we can’t always get what we need — like, for one thing, an instant cure for the coronavirus. (Not to mention, of all things, toilet paper.)

The late M. Scott Peck wrote a seminal book called The Road Less Traveled, which famously smacks the reader in the face with these three words in a single paragraph:

    “Life is difficult.”

Peck maintained that life was never meant to be easy. He noted that life is essentially a series of problems which can either be solved or not solved or ignored altogether. On that note he wrote at length about the importance of discipline, describing four aspects of it:

1. Delaying gratification — sacrificing present comfort for future gains.

2. Accepting responsibility for one’s own decisions.

3. Being dedicated to truth, to honesty in word and deed.

4. Balancing life by handling conflicting requirements.

The Chinese word for crisis is said to denote both danger and opportunity. We are definitely living through a crisis that presents dangers and requires us to make responsible decisions for the welfare of ourselves and others.

But this dark time also provides the perfect opportunity to take stock of our lives and lifestyles. It’s a good time to discipline ourselves into “new normals” that can better serve our lives and the lives of our neighbors. (And better serve our Lord.)

I’d suggest you keep copies of The Serenity Prayer around your home or workplace and in your pocket or wallet or purse. Read it often and meditatively, with your eyes closed, taking in and blowing out some relaxing breaths as you do.

Internalizing The Serenity Prayer may not change the world but it can certainly change yours.

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The gate of heaven is everywhere.”

— Thomas Merton

An invitation to the peace that waits for you within you.

Your peace has been waiting patiently
for you to come around for your share
of the higher consciousness you desire.

You have been longing for it but hear this
It has longed for you to drop your bag
of worries — to rip off the mask you wear
to hide the best truth you’ve got from
the world — to untie the see-through bindings
of pride or guilt you employ to hang yourself.

What have all the brick walls you’ve piled
higher and higher gotten you? Have they
kept out fear, or deterred the bugs that
have bugged and bitten your toughest hide?

You have known this truism for so long now,
that peace is another name for the one
who stays awake inside you day and night
wooing you. It waits patiently for you
to strip down to the mighty nothing you
came into being with. Simply unlock and
open the gate and take full ownership of
your own still waters and green pastures.

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