We have heard of the Serenity 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.” This prayer was put in its current form by Reinhold Nieburhr during World War II. It was used by chaplains throughout the war, and it has been incorporated into most 12 step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
It is not a new way of thinking and it is not particularly Christian. It is more a way of thought than a theology. In various forms it has been around since early Greek Stoic philosophers. It is a way of thinking about things that emphasizes our focus on what the individual can control and accepting that which you cannot control.
Modern ways of using this thought process have been applied to sports programs. In the United States South, it has famously been taken to an extreme by Coach Saban at the University of Alabama football program. For him, everything is a process that focuses all the player’s energy on improving what they can improve about themselves. They are to see the opposing players as nameless and faceless opponents over which they have no influence and control.
This week we are at a New Year. Many throughout the world will make New Year’s resolutions, resolving to change the things they can. Most of those resolutions will be broken, but many will at least make an attempt. Any bookstore is full of books on improving ourselves. The entire concept of self improvement is ingrained without our culture
This approach to life clearly has its good points, and it is very helpful in dealing with the stresses of a modern world. But, I fear, it has a down side. We live in a world where the biggest challenge is that so many of us feel disconnected to the world in which we live. We feel disconnected from those who have gone on before us, we feel disconnected from our families, and we feel disconnected from others in the world around us. We live in a world focused on what we can improve about ourselves, accepting that the world around us cannot be changed.
I have started to believe that we have taken this Greek Stoic philosophy a bit too far. The mystery of the Kingdom of God is not about only focusing on what we can change about ourselves, but also it involves focusing on those around us. We cannot separate ourselves from our families, our friends, and our co-workers. We cannot treat those around us as “nameless and faceless”. We must treat those around us as real people, with real hurts and real pains. We are created to be a connected people, and we must strive to always keep that connection.