Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Serenity Prayer
distributed 3/22/02 - ©2002

"Lord, help me to accept what I cannot change."

This week, those words grace the signboard of a church that I pass on my way to work. They immediately bring to mind the more extensive "serenity prayer" used in many Alcoholics Anonymous groups: "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."

The Serenity Prayer is grounded in pastoral and psychological wisdom. It has been a vehicle of guidance and healing for countless folk who have wrestled deeply with addiction and personal crises.

It is true that there are personal battles we cannot win, broken relationships that we cannot heal single-handed, pieces of our history that have been written with indelible ink. There are things we cannot change, and acceptance of those is an essential part of being empowered to work at the changes that are possible.

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I saw the church sign as I was hearing the headline news on the radio -- disturbing news about energy legislation, violence in the Middle East, and murder in my home city.

The coming together of those diverse sets of words surfaced a long-standing intellectual and spiritual question for me, a question that hooks into the core of my work with Eco-Justice Ministries. When is the challenge too great, the cause too hard? Where do we need to come to acceptance, rather than courage? How far are we called to push in seeking difficult changes?

I pray for the courage to change my personal lifestyle -- to treat others kindly and justly, to consume less stuff, and to shift my values from personal convenience toward the good of the community. I pray for the courage to carry on the political efforts -- to nag and challenge my two "stiff necked" Senators (a fine biblical phrase for those who will not turn their attention to see new and righteous possibilities).

But, Lord, how can I take on the whole drive of "progress" that is destablizing life on this planet? What can I do to turn aside the march of economic and cultural globalization? How can I make a dent in the escalating patterns of energy use that are accelerating climate change? Must I deal with those problems where change seems impossible? O God, can't I just accept "the way things are" and find a degree of serenity?

Somewhere, there is a dividing line between the things I cannot change, and the things I can. God, grant me the wisdom to know the difference.

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We stand at the beginning of Holy Week, the most profound and challenging eight days of the Christian calendar. The message of Holy Week, the proclamation of Easter, is about the astounding possibility for change. By the power of God, even sin and death are conquered. By the grace of God, lives are transformed.

The Holy Week pilgrimage works its way to serenity, of a sort, as Jesus comes to acceptance of his death. But that path goes first through agony in the garden, and includes the excruciating pain of the crucifixion.

As I read the story of Holy Week, I know that the transition point between changeable and changeless is not in a comfortable or convenient place. The prayer for acceptance is never an excuse for an alcoholic to keep drinking. And I know that it cannot be an excuse for me to easily accept my complicity in the exploitation and destruction that are entwined with modern life.

For Jesus, alone in the garden after the Last Supper, serenity came with the acceptance of his fast-approaching death. It did not remove him from the struggle, but took him onward to selfless sacrifice.

Yes, we need to be able to accept the limits of our power to control the world. We need to accept that some strategies are ineffective, and that some things will change only through the grace and power of God. But our quest for serenity must never lead us to acceptance of the evil, injustice, exploitation and destruction in our midst.

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Gracious God, with you all things are possible. In the coming days, draw us into the depths of faith that will fill us with courage and wisdom. May our serenity and acceptance never be an excuse for taking the easy path. Rather, as we come to an acceptance of that which is unchangeable by our efforts, may we be liberated and empowered in the continuing struggle for peace, justice and the integrity of creation.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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Eco-Justice Ministries ended all programming on July 31, 2020. This site is an archive of writings and resources.
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