As a deeply spiritual person, I find great comfort and guidance in the deceptively simple Serenity Prayer. I first heard it recited by Robert F. Kennedy, shortly before he was assassinated in 1968 while campaigning for the Democratic nomination for the presidency. Bobby lived through extremely turbulent times including World War II, the assassination of his brother, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the Civil Rights Movement, and the quagmire of the Vietnam war. The prayer gave comfort to Mr. Kennedy and to many others in the world.
During my lifetime, I have returned to the prayer frequently and often recite it as part of my spiritual practice, especially during trying times in my life and in our society.
Today, I hear from my clients and colleagues that they are experiencing our current world situation as extremely disturbing: maybe the worst time in their lives. With the combination of Covid, political turmoil, and the climate crisis, people find themselves depressed and anxious. I am not sure that 2022 is any more difficult or dangerous than other times during my lifetime. For example, in a five-year period between 1963 and 1968 three of our national leaders, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated. I do believe that technology especially all-news television networks and social media has accentuated our awareness of difficulties in the world.
No matter what the circumstances, no matter how dire the situation, the serenity prayer provides a beneficial framework for me to assess how to live my life as well as I can.
I try to ask myself regularly, “what it is that I cannot change.” First and foremost, I learn and relearn that I cannot change other people. They are who they are. I find it hard enough to change myself: overcome bad habits, and continue on a righteous path, let alone imagine that I can change someone else.
Even when it comes to myself, there is much about me I cannot change. I am the age that I am and will never grow younger. My body is the same body I’ve had for my entire life and I cannot trade it for another. I may be able to tweak my mind a little bit, but it is fundamentally the same mind I’ve had since I was a child.
So what do I pray “to have the courage to change?” Where do I find the courage to make the changes that are within my power to make?
I can change my behavior to correct actions that inadvertently hurt others or are self-destructive.
I can change my behavior in ways that contribute to the destruction of the environment. They may be small things, but they are what I can do to make a difference.
I can continue to educate myself to better understand the world I live in.
While I cannot make peace in Ukraine or the Middle East, I can create peace within myself, within my own family, and household.
This brings us to the biggest challenge of all: “to gain the wisdom to understand the difference between what we can accept and what we can change.”
One of the frameworks that I have learned to apply this question is to THINK GLOBAL BUT ACT LOCAL.
For me, this means trying to understand our world from the widest lens possible. Global to me means to think intergalactic. Be aware of how science is illuminating the vastness of the world we live in. As I study with fascination the photos from the James Webb Space Telescope, I learn that we live in a vast universe with billions of galaxies. Our world is far more immense than we have ever imagined.
I try to keep aware of worldwide perspectives, not just local ones. This helps me to realize that whereas things may be currently difficult in the USA, around the world things are actually getting better all the time. More people are receiving healthy nutrition, adequate healthcare, people are living longer, and there are fewer wars. Read more about it here: Steven Pinker: Why Our World Is Getting Better.
When I pray for wisdom and think about what I can do to make the world a better place. I think about the fact that I can only act locally. This means being aware of the actions I can take in my state, in my city, and even on my block. Local also means within my family. For me, I must remind myself always that family comes first. Local can also be interpreted as taking care of my mind body and spirit. Unless I take care of myself, I can do nothing to help others and work on changing the world outside of myself.
I would be interested in hearing from you about the way you interpret and act upon the Serenity Prayer