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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Changing Things

Do you need to change anything in your life? Any habits you need to change? Any situations you need to change? How about relationships? Any of those in need of some transformation? If you're like me, you've got some things in your life that are just downright unacceptable --- and yet you live with them. Why do we do that? Do we have to? Is change that formidable? Is change that impossible?

The famous Serenity Prayer ( seems to offer a sensible approach to these change-worthy conditions. Some of us with recovery experience at quite familiar with this prayer (or at least with some versions of it). Do we really understand what it means? "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can --- and the wisdom to know the difference." When one prays such a prayer, are we even capable of comprehending the implications that are inherent in such a prayer?

Are we humans, who are so famous for living life in perpetual and chronic stages of denial, ready to accept the fact that some things cannot change and won't change --- ever? What if those things are global warming or the cancer that I've just been diagnosed with? What if those things are the growth of militant Islam and the advance of Islamic and Communist states in the worldwide economy?

What do we think of the proposition that some things in this world, which clearly need to change, just won't? And if they won't change, how should we respond to them? Do we just "look the other way." Do we just try to pretend we don't notice? What does God expect of His people when He squares us up with unacceptable conditions that we just cannot change? When was the last time you pondered such things?

Or how about that "courage to change the things I can?" Is that all it takes, just courage? If I just had courage, could I lose weight, lower my cholesterol, stop smoking, exercise more, improve my marriage, be a better parent to my kids, and generally live a life that's more pleasing to God (and me)? Or are other things needed, which I may have to ask God for? How about dealing with my character defects, like laziness, procrastination, or other baggage I might be toting around? Does courage overcome those obstacles too?

Am I willing to accept the responsibility to change the things I can? Am I willing to be held accountable for changing the things I can? It would seem that if God answers my Serenity Prayer, then even answered prayer will have certain implications. Did you know that?

I'm all for change. In fact, I think I like change. I tell people that I'm the marketing director for change. It's what I sell. I usually think of change as being good. That's mostly because it's a rare situation that doesn't have room for improvement. And improvement means change. However, it seems the older I get, the more aware I become of those things that I cannot change. In fact, it appears that there are things nobody can change. It's a real revelation. It's also very sobering.

If there are things that nobody can change, how does one live at peace with them? What are we asking God to do, in granting us the "serenity to accept the things that cannot be changed? How will I know if God has granted it? Will I be happy about those things? Will they just not bother me anymore; will I become blind to them? Or will I find reasonable work-arounds that mitigate those stubborn things that won't change? What is serenity anyway?

There are different understandings of what serenity is ( Words like calm, peaceful, unruffled, undisturbed, completely clear and fine are often used to explain serenity. I like those words. I think I might like to be unruffled, undisturbed, completely clear and fine with global warming, rising obesity and devastating poverty. Or would I? Are these really things that cannot be changed?

Is the definition of what can be changed itself changing? Is the scope of what cannot be changed broadening? If so, can that be changed? And if so, how?

By now, you probably have a sense that I'm going somewhere with this. You'd be right too. I like the Serenity Prayer. But frankly, I worry that it's a cop-out. I wonder if we don't just jump to something that begins to sound like a platitude and recite that instead of getting off our butts and rising to what otherwise would look like a call to action.

It is clear to me that there are many things I cannot change. That's why God is God (and I am not). He runs the world His way, and not my way. I need to learn to live at peace with that. I need to learn to live at peace with Him even when I don't agree with Him. On the other hand, there are plenty of things that can be changed. Are we being vigilant about those things? Are we good stewards of those opportunities that God gives us?

Ah, but here's a proposition for you. What if God in heaven wants us to engage in things that cannot be changed? God's word tells us, for example, that "There will always be poor people ... " and I'm paraphrasing here, but we're also told to "do something about that!" (Deuteronomy 15:11). Jesus said, "You will always have the poor among you ... " (John 12:8). But Jesus also said, "Sell your possession and give to the poor ... " (Luke 12:33).

What is God thinking? If we will always have the poor among us, then it would certainly seem that this is one of those things that cannot be changed. Aren't we just supposed to have the serenity to accept it? Look closely. Is it possible that God is telling us to struggle against something that cannot be changed? Is it possible that this popular song on contemporary Christian radio, admonishing us to "build it anyway, dream it anyway" is more Biblical than the much loved Serenity Prayer?

I don't have the answers here folks. But there are few things that cannot be changed, which we have to just live at peace with. If I'm going to prayer the Serenity Prayer, I'd rather have the wisdom to know where to struggle and where to rest. You see, I've come to understand that in God's economy, things don't have to make sense. God, grant me the serenity to live at peace with that!

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