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Reinhold Niebuhr wrote a prayer in 1943 that has become famous. I’m sure you will recognize it.

“God, give us grace to accept, with serenity, the things that cannot be changed, the courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”

This prayer sums up a great philosophy of life. The key to it, of course, is the last part – to have the wisdom to distinguish between the first two parts – to know what in life to try to change, and what to try to simply accept because it cannot be changed.

Which of us has the wisdom to know these things? It seems that if we have the wisdom, if we accomplish this through life experience, contemplation, prayer, meditation, or any of the many means by which wisdom is gained in life, we can earn that quality called serenity, happiness, or inner peace.

Behind all the changes we try to make in life, behind all the desires to change, behind all the wishes we have to bring new things into our lives (and even the wishes to leave old things out of our lives) lies the simple desire to feel serene – to feel inner peace. We may think it is flashy new car, or a new job, or a new home, or a new relationship. But the root of all those desires is simply to feel inner peace.

There is another serenity prayer – an older one. We find it in Matthew. You will recognize these words. But even though they are familiar (or especially, because they are familiar), hear them as I speak to them. Take them deeply inside yourself. Feel the rich meaning of these words of Jesus as He says [in Matthew 6:31-33]:

“Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life – what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body – what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air. They neither sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns. And yet, your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you, by being anxious, can add one cubit to his (or her) span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing?

“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They neither toil nor spin. Yet, I tell you, even Solomon and all of his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? Therefore, be not anxious saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ But seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.”

These are truly magnificent words. It is the last part that we have heard so many times, that is the true significance of this spiritual quest that you and I are on today, our pursuit of happiness, and our desire to be serene and have inner peace. Seek first God, then all else will be added unto us.

I know, you have heard it and done it before. I believe every one of us has. Yet, in order to be serene and know happiness, you and I must pursue this every day – put God first in our lives.

However, often we do not feel the confidence it takes to actually believe that we can put God first, with all the challenges in our lives.

Maybe that is why many people are so afraid. There is an enormous capacity to feel humble at moments like this.

As we contemplate our need to put God first so that God may speak through us, and act through us, and give us something worthwhile to do, we realize, anew, this loving connection that is ours.

One woman said, “Sometimes I don’t love myself as much as I truly deserve. Because of this fact about myself, I tend to lean on wanting other people to approve of me. I long for other people to give me credit when I do work. Basically, I want and need those things because I don’t really give myself enough credit.”

Does that sound familiar?

She continued, “That’s what I noticed about myself. I just don’t care about myself. I don’t love (****Mary****) that much. I thought this would be worthy of contemplation and prayer, so I went out for a walk up in the woods. I sat down at this beautiful spot. It was so beautiful. I mentally put myself in a seat across from where I was sitting.

I said (as if talking to someone else), “So, tell me, why don’t you like me?”

The answer came back like a shot: “Because I can’t trust you.”

I asked, “Why not?” The answer came, “Because you don’t do what you say you are going to do.”

I said, “Sure I do.”

The reply was, “Sure you do … for other people. For other people, you’re very dependable.”

She said, “I am. If I make a promise to someone else, I will almost certainly, keep it. I am a woman of my word to everyone but one person – me.

“I have a bad habit of taking my promises TO MYSELF, very lightly. If I say I’m going to exercise tonight when I get home from work, and when I get home and I don’t really feel like it, I won’t. I tell myself I deserve a break because I’ve been working all day. If I say I’m going to get up tomorrow morning at 5 o’ clock and meditate for an hour because I know this would be healthy for me, and when the alarm goes off and I feel sleepy, guess what I am capable of doing? Sleeping. I always thought this was a way of taking care of myself. I would tell myself, ‘I need the sleep. I need the rest.’ I told myself, in no uncertain terms, that I need to keep my promises to myself, because keeping my promises to myself was an important element to liking and loving myself.”

You are important enough – to keep your promises to yourself.

What promises would you like to make to yourself right now? Promises that you will keep.

If we DON’T do that, then we tend to need the world to support us; we need our spouses, our bosses, our co-workers to recognize us, praise us and give us credit for what we have done.

One thing about people in the world we live in – they do not always give us the support that we need or feel we deserve. It does not happen all the time. Maybe that is because we are the ones who are supposed to give that support, and love to ourselves. Keeping our own promises is a key way for us to find our own inner peace and our own serenity.

If you ever feel a sense of anxiety, what can you do about this? Contemplate about it, and the answer comes: “Really be there.” What does that mean? The answer is: “To really be there, in the moment.”

When you feel anxious, you need to breathe deeply into your anxiety, and really feel the anxiety in that moment – pray.

What you often do with your anxiety is push it away from myself. By pushing it away, it grows larger.

Sometimes, when it is a rainy day and it ruins your plans or makes you feel down – stay in the moment. Notice the variety of raindrops that fall. There is an incredible variety in the fall of raindrops. Contemplate the mocking bird. Poor thing: it has no songs of its own. It has no musical taste. It will follow the song of a robin with the song of a common sparrow. It sings and sings and sings, and yet it seems so joyful. Why? Because it makes others’ songs its own. It has real joy when it gives itself, completely, to its own singing.

We have often heard that another way to serenity, to feeling a sense of inner worth and peace, is to be grateful for what we already have. The glass is either half empty or half full; it is our call. What do we say it is? Is it half empty or is it half full?

By showing gratitude toward the things, we already have in our lives, we are actually invoking the very presence of God. Invoking the presence of God is surely the best way we have of reminding ourselves of what is really important. Some of us are prisoners of our desires – things we want, or the things we feel we have to have. How do we deal with our attachments to things? One suggestion might be to feel the pain of not having what you do not have. Feel the pain. Recognize the price that you are paying right now for not being content.

If you feel that pain enough, you will cease desiring. Am I saying that desiring is wrong? No. I’m simply saying that if you are feeling pain already, if you allow yourself to stay in the moment, the pain itself will lead to freedom.

Another suggestion might be to imagine having what you want or need. Imagine getting the object of your desire. Imagine having it. Then realize that the pleasure is short-lived. How long do you ever stay happy when you get what you want? A few hours? A few days at most? Even a brand-new car stops bringing pleasure after a few weeks. It just becomes the thing you ride in to get to where you are going. Is it worth it? That is something to contemplate in prayer.

We, also, can offer our attachment to things directly to God. Continue to offer to God whatever it is we desire, over and over and over again until we start believing that it is God’s, not ours. It is God’s, not ours. The pain will then cease and desist.

We, also, can take care of our bodies. Many of the ills or discontent we experience in our lives is often due to discomfort in the body. If we pay attention to the things that really serve us – the foods we really need to eat in the appropriate quantities, the exercise our bodies desire – the problems may evaporate. A lot of problems evaporate by simply taking a long walk, or working out in the gym, or practicing the presence of God. A lot of problems simply dissolve when the body’s needs are taken care of. Pay attention to and take care of the body.

Lastly, there is a kind of discontent that comes over us that is actually healthy, despite everything I have been saying – A Divine discontent.

Are you not paying attention to something? Is there some unfinished business in your life? Are you not taking care of your family? Do you have a commitment that you are ignoring. Do you have a calling from your soul that you are putting on the shelf? If you are doing any of these things, a kind of Divine discontent arises in the soul, and calls to us to fulfill it. It will not be content until we make the necessary efforts to fulfill them. This is a gift God gives us. We must do what is necessary to fulfill those things.

Make a list of your goals and prioritize them. Look specifically at your goals and decide what is most important and what you can do right now

If you want to be nicer to people, make one of your goals as follows: When I see (***Adam***) tomorrow morning, I will greet him warmly. Let that be your goal. You can say “Hello” to (Adam) in a pleasant way, tomorrow morning, and the fulfillment of that goal will bring a degree of satisfaction into your life.

It is spiritually important to take care of those goals (to take care of our bodies), just as it is spiritually important to pray and to meditate. All of these things bring their own contentment. It would be great if it only took a blue sky and some white clouds to bring serenity – not that it cannot, but more often, it takes our own commitment to know what we really need – our minds, our bodies, our families, etc. – and to fulfill those needs before contentment can come. But it will come.

Most of all, it takes our awareness that God lies behind it all.

If we seek first to know God, to put the presence of God into every activity, then serenity is ours. Or, in the words of Matthew, “Serenity will be added unto thee.”

I pray that serenity lives as part of you.

God bless you!

PRAYER / MEDITATION____________________

Let us pray …

If you do not have your eyes closed, you may close them now. Take a slow, deep breath. Feel yourself relax deeply into your chair. Now is the time to feel the depth of our inner peace and to feel the very presence of God, with us and all around us.

Rest in the silence of prayer …

You may picture a calm scene; whatever fills you with serenity. I see a crystal blue sky. The blue is so pure, it is perfect. I see puffy, white clouds floating in that blue sky. This scene reminds me of peace. See it now in your mind’s eye. It stills my thoughts. It lifts my heart. I feel I am one with all of creation, and with God.

Rest in the silence of prayer …

We are at peace. Truly, deeply, we are at peace. We are serene. Although there may be outer turbulence – winds of change – deep inside, we are still and there is silence, sweetness, and God’s peace.

Take another slow, deep breath, and let it go. Bring it in, again, deeply, and let it go. Even as you resume your normal breathing, stay with that sense of serenity that deep breathing brings. There is great Truth of God; there is our true identity, in the depth of that breath and that peace.

Let us sit now in the silence of prayer. Simply become aware of your breath as it flows in and flows out. If you will, imagine white clouds floating in an azure blue sky.

We will pray in this stillness for a few minutes …

For this serenity, we are grateful. Thank You God!

In the name of Jesus Christ … Amen.

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