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.
There are several versions of this prayer, but the above version is the most commonly quoted one, and known as the Serenity Prayer. Many individuals, including Saint Francis of Assisi, have been credited as the author of this prayer but the original version was actually composed by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. Niebuhr composed the prayer in 1932-33 and the prayer spread rapidly, often without attribution to Niebuhr, through church groups in the 1930s and 1940s and was adopted and popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous. Niebuhr used it in a 1943 sermon at Heath Evangelical Union Church in Heath, Massachusetts. It also appeared in a sermon of Niebuhr’s in the 1944 Book of Prayers and Services for the Armed Forces. Niebuhr first published it in 1951 in a magazine column. Early versions of the prayer are given no title, but by 1955, it was being called the Serenity Prayer in publications of Alcoholics Anonymous.
This prayer provides powerful guidance on understanding the world and a useful template on how to live our lives as the world we live in is facing so many crises.
In the United States, we are living through the worst pandemic in our history with over 3,000 lives being lost every day. By comparison, 2,977 people died in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. And experts believe that before this is over, before enough people have received the vaccine, we will be losing over 4,000 Americans daily. And while medical officials are pleading with the public to change their behaviors (e.g., gathering in large groups, not wearing masks, ignoring social distancing), many individuals and political leaders are doing the opposite. I can’t stop the pandemic, but I can do my part to reduce the likelihood I catch it or spread it to others. I can follow these simple guidelines and I can encourage others to do the same.
Another crisis our country is facing is the ongoing challenge to our democracy in which the President, and his allies, continue efforts to disenfranchise the votes of millions of Americans, arguing before the courts the results of the vote should be ignored and should be overturned. Fortunately, our court system is working and these frivolous lawsuits are continuing to be denied but the relentless arguments are taking a toll on the confidence in our election system.
One recent example, a lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas, joined by six states, argues votes in specific battleground states should be overturned. Subsequent to this filing, 17 Republican Attorney Generals in other states have filed motions in support of Texas’ lawsuit. Even the President, as a private citizen, has joined the suit and asked Senator Ted Cruz of Texas to represent him before the Supreme Court. More than half of the Republicans in the House of Representatives have signed on in support of the lawsuit. Fortunately, the Supreme Court has dismissed this baseless attempt at overturning the votes and protecting our democracy. The public’s confidence in our election has been damaged and it will require time and effort for that confidence to be restored.
The news appearing on television and the newspapers, is enough to raise anxiety to the point of withdrawal. However, while it is a good idea to avoid becoming fixated with the “latest development” it is important to retain some balance – “be informed, but not obsessed”. That’s what I’m trying to do and the Serenity Prayer is a good reminder of how to navigate that process. Regarding the politicians I believe are misguided or dishonest, I can’t stop them, but I can share the truth with others and, hopefully, these self-serving politicians will ultimately be voted out of office. Meanwhile, I can also hope for integrity and honesty of individuals responsible for our courts, as they deliver justice according to our Constitution and not as argued by any political party.
These recent events remind me that democracy is a fragile thing and can be lost unless we the people are engaged enough in the process to take the necessary steps to protect it from those who attack it.
Another crisis, the one I’ve been writing about for two years, is our climate crisis. The collective actions of individuals, businesses, and governments are poisoning our air, polluting our water, increasing the global temperature, melting our glaciers, and leading us to an unsustainable place to live, in the not-too-distant future. Perhaps we’ll be ok over the next couple of decades, but our children will not be so fortunate. I can’t fix the climate crisis but I can make choices that affect my carbon footprint and whether or not I pollute the earth. I can also share information with others that might influence them to make better choices.
There is promise for our future with a new administration taking the lead in our government. More and more individuals and businesses are taking positive actions to address the climate crisis we find ourselves in, but the opposition to change will continue to slow the necessary steps to adequately address our problems. The fight to address these and other crises will continue. But as long as we follow truth, we can protect our health, our democracy, and our planet from the worst outcome. The truth is important but so easily misrepresented by dishonest individuals who are further enabled by unchecked social media. I recently ran across a description of what truth is. It is printed on a tote bag available at the New York Times Gift Shop:
The truth is hard. / The truth is hidden. / The truth must be pursued. / The truth is hard to hear. / The truth is rarely simple. / The truth isn’t so obvious. / The truth is necessary. / The truth can’t be glossed over. / The truth has no agenda. / The truth can’t be manufactured. / The truth doesn’t take sides. / The truth isn’t red or blue. / The truth is hard to accept. / The truth pulls no punches. / The truth is powerful. / The truth is under attack. / The truth is worth defending. / The truth requires taking a stand. / The truth is more important now than ever.
Living by the Serenity Prayer, and understanding and promoting the truth, are pretty good objectives for all of us. Purchasing a tote bag might also help spread the word. After all, it is the season of gift-giving.