Archive for Serenity Prayer

Knowing Which Mountain to Climb

*Knowing Which Mountain to Climb is the fifth installment in The Serenity Prayer Series.

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 I was twenty-something, then thirty-something, and finally sneaking into my forty-somethings, I thought I could climb every mountain my friends could. After all, nothing was physically wrong with me, and I could hike 5-6 miles at a stretch, maybe three or four times every summer.

Then, I naively accepted an invitation to hike from Aspen to Crested Butte, Colorado with a group of women in recovery. We took the ‘long route’- fourteen miles- because it was supposedly easier. The super-athletes in the group made it in eight hours, arriving about four in the afternoon. More trickled into town as the sun sank lower in the west. Finally, my desperate foursome wandered in long after dark, exhausted like we’d each given birth to triplets. Some people are born athletes and some aren’t, and that day God gave me the wisdom to know the difference.

Webster’s defines wisdom as “the knowledge of what is true or right, coupled with just judgment as to action.” * I wish that I could say that now, in my fifty-somethings, I can easily discern the difference between the things I can change and those I cannot. But truth be told, my perceptions of events, circumstances, and people naturally filter through my own self-interests. It’s always me first. How does this affect me? What should I do about this? That’s why the Serenity Prayer is, for me, an indispensable tool in seeking peace of mind and heart. I can ask God for help.

The New International Version of the Bible mentions wisdom over two hundred times, but this verse from James is my all-time favorite:

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. -James 1:5-8

Every time I’ve asked, I’ve received. Sometimes I have to wait a while, and sometimes I don’t like what I hear. But eventually an answer will waft my way, suggesting a solution that works for everyone’s good and God’s glory: that’s how I know it’s from Him. As far as obtaining the power to carry it out- that’s a blog post for another day.

All the courage in the world can’t change the fact that I’m not a born athlete. Last week a friend dropped by with her twenty-something daughter and casually mentioned their plans to summit a 14’er this weekend. That means a mountain over fourteen thousand feet high. Even trees can’t breathe up there. I expressed my heartfelt admiration and wished them well, knowing my days above timberline are over. I still hike, but now I’m very selective about which mountains I climb. Thank God for the wisdom to know the difference!

©2011 Rachel Ophoff, Coconut Mountain Communications LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Please visit my website at http://www.friendshipwithjesus.com for more information on recovery and the awesome love of God.

*Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary ©1996 by Random House Value Publishing, Inc.

Courage for the Uphill Climb

*Courage for the Uphill Climb is the fourth installment in The Serenity Prayer Series.

God
Grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change.
    
     The courage to change the things I can

The UPS guy didn’t like my dog Max, and I didn’t blame him. Part Shepherd, part Rottweiler, no one even dared approach me when Max was by my side. Our hearts broke when he died last year. All that’s left of him are our precious memories, a few photos, and a mile-long scar rounding the outside bend of my left elbow.

No, he didn’t bite me. He merely did what dogs do, leaving a half-eaten rawhide bone on the stairs. Being the same color as the oak floor, I never saw it: I just stepped on it. My foot went flying out from under me, and I sailed elbow-first down into the living room. The blow shattered the joint and changed my life forever. In the weeks following reconstructive surgery I simply accepted the doctor’s forecast of permanent disability; he predicted pain and very limited mobility forever. But as time went on I decided I wasn’t ready to be a one-armed wonder, so I sought a second opinion. Our family chiropractor responded to the surgeon’s prognosis with a resounding, “Nonsense!” He gave me a sheet of exercise instructions, a couple of resistance bands, and the hope that someday my arm would be strong again.

Four years later I can see they were both right. It always hurts and it’s weaker than my other arm. However, the pain is manageable and I have far better function than I would have had without exercise. “To accept the things I cannot change” is a basic tenet of the Serenity Prayer and a step along the pathway to peace, but I must be certain that a thing cannot be changed- and if it can, I must summon the courage to change it.

I am a Christian saved by grace and an alcoholic/addict saved by recovery, miraculously blessed to live in the best of both worlds. Parts of my heart and soul are still broken, and will be until the day I go home to Heaven. For the things I cannot change, I ask for serenity and peace. For the things I can change, I pray for the courage to try. Better than an exercise band with a photocopied sheet of instructions, my Lord beckons me with these words:

“Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”– Jesus Christ (Matthew 14:27 NIV)

What does it look like: to “take courage?” In this case, it is my weakness surrendering to His strength. As I go about my day-to-day life, I picture Jesus holding my right hand. Because it’s attached to the arm that doesn’t hurt, I can pretty much wander the path while staying reasonably close to His side. But when I’m frightened I grab His hand with my broken arm- the one with little strength, the one that hurts all the time. Why?

To be led by that arm I must completely surrender; it has virtually no strength of its own. In addition, any movement away from the One who holds me results in significant pain in my elbow. I must trust Him not to hurt me, or lead me where I shouldn’t go. Never has trusting Jesus led me astray. With His help I’ve found the courage to change the things I can, one day at a time.

I felt pretty brave with my dog Max until the day a bear snuck up behind us. He let out a little whimper just before he left me in his dust. I happen to know Jesus ain’t afraid of no bear, or any other fear that can come my way.

“It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“It isn’t for the moment you are stuck that you need courage, but for the long uphill climb back to sanity and faith and security.”- Anne Morrow Lindbergh


Acceptance and Wide Open Spaces

*Acceptance and Wide Open Spaces is the third installment in The Serenity Prayer Series.

God
Grant me the serenity

         To accept the things I cannot change.


Three years ago my mother wrote me out of her will and gave all her legal rights to a man who wiped out her savings, sold her home, and took the money. Because she was still of sound mind I had no recourse. Now she’s dead broke and demented, living on government assistance in a surprisingly good nursing home. For thirty years I flew back and forth to Florida, bringing the grandkids to visit and taking us all to the shore. Through surgeries and rehab and the deaths of my father and stepdad I was there. I jumped through hoop after hoop to get her what she needed, and if she had only listened to me, she’d be closer and safer, not far away and scared. I prayed I’d be able to help care for her in her old age, but I’m financially unable to assist and legally powerless over her circumstances.

Why do things seem to work out so badly sometimes, even when we pray?

I don’t know. Jesus himself said, “In this life, you will have trouble.” (John 16:33a NIV) That guy could tell it like it was, and like it still is. I just know it stinks when the bad guys win and the good guys lose, and there’s nothing we can do to change it. Like the home team’s loss after the ump’s crummy call, we kick the dirt and grumble before turning out the lights and driving away.

Accepting the things I cannot change. What does that really mean? Is it simply resignation, or perhaps something more?

The skunk who ruined our family party cut me out of the loop, but the Lord intervened through a mutual friend who kept me updated on my mother’s situation. Considerable research revealed the cad had squandered every last cent, while retaining power of attorney. Prayer was my only recourse; acceptance brought my only peace. Every day I envisioned myself walking my mother and the ne’er-do-well to the Throne, letting go of their hands, and giving them over to God. I asked that He would keep my mother from living on the street. He did. I am still asking Him to heal the cad.

Accepting the things I cannot change not only frees my soul but gives God room to move in His mysterious ways, according to His unfailing love.

“Acceptance says, ‘True, this is my situation at the moment. I’ll look unblinkingly at the reality of it. But I’ll also open my hand to accept willingly whatever a loving Father sends me.”– Catherine Marshall, American author (1916-1983)

Originally I had hoped to move my mother into an assisted living facility close to my home, but God did not answer my prayer in the way I expected. However, against all odds, she is in good hands. I’m slowly learning that acceptance is a spacious place where God lives and works, even wider than the western Colorado sky. It still stinks when the bad guys win and the good guys lose; it always has, and it always will, until Christ comes again. Perhaps that’s why the apostle Paul wrote these words to the church at Philippi; words to comfort believers then and now:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, and with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4:4-7 NIV)

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for accepting the hurt and worry I bring to the Throne; for answering my prayers in ways that work for my good and your glory. Help me trust that You will make all things right, in Your time. Amen!

©2011 Rachel Ophoff, Coconut Mountain Communications LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Please visit my website at http://www.friendshipwithjesus.com

The Search For Serenity

*The Search for Serenity is the second installment in The Serenity Prayer Series.

“God, grant me the serenity…”

When my knees were younger, I played tennis. Not well, or often, but I enjoyed running around the court and whacking the ball over the net. Once, in the midst of a rally, a bee stung me on the ankle. Hours later, an allergy I didn’t know I had launched an all-out assault of hives, accompanied by a relentless itch deep within each joint of my body. The hives were unnerving but the itching almost drove me to the edge. Because I was young and stupid, it didn’t occur to me to go to the doctor. The symptoms came and went for a week, leaving me miserable in my own skin. Had I known Benadryl would ease my suffering, I’d have been popping those little pink pills faster than Serena Williams can serve. I was too dumb to seek relief from my pain.

The naivete I displayed in ignoring a systemic allergic reaction was unfortunately similar to how clueless I was in dealing with emotional pain. As the oldest child in a family beset by mental illness, the others bounced off me like a trampoline. My bipolar father had survived Nazi captivity but eventually descended into madness, venting his fury on my brothers and me. My mother worked constantly. She kept us fed, clothed, and housed while I juggled housework, childcare, and school. The responsibilities were staggering but the violence pushed me to the edge. I was miserable in my own skin until the day I found marijuana. I was fifteen. For the first time, my soul stopped screaming. Finally, I had found relief from my pain.

Serenity: the opposite of emotional pain; the state of being calm, peaceful, tranquil. We seek it, pursue it, crave it. Some of us drink or drug to find it; some run or exercise for the high. In the sweet buy-and-buy we shop for clothes we don’t need and cars we can’t afford. Most of these pursuits are not sinful in and of themselves, but they are no substitute for the peace of God. But why invest time and effort in getting to know the Almighty when we can feel better (faster) with a quick trip to the liquor store, the gym, or the mall?

Because: Every earthly pursuit exacts a price. Every addict knows the depression of coming down; every alcoholic faces the morning after. Clothes fade, cars depreciate, and the bills stack up at the end of the month. While physical endeavors are good for the body and soul, they can’t take the place of relationship with God; even the strongest knees give out eventually. We are left squirming in our pain with nowhere to go, unless we know we can go to the Lord.

I drank and drugged because substance abuse eased the pain, at least until I sobered up. Those habits led to alcoholism and addiction, the bottomless pit of despair. Sitting in church I pleaded with God to miraculously deliver me. Instead, He introduced me to people who taught me this prayer as part of how to live in the light. From Day One of recovery, God has continually answered my pleas for serenity. I have learned to live comfortably in my own skin, in spite of what happened before, in light of what I’ve done since, and in anticipation of whatever would come in the future. Never once has the Lord denied me serenity when I further surrendered to these terms:

To accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.

When my heart was younger, it broke every time my father beat us, especially the vicious attacks on my brother Matthew (may God rest his soul). It broke every time I tried to quit drinking, only to pick up again. In a thousand failures from my life in addiction to the simpler failures of life in sobriety, I’ve found only one answer that brings healing to my heart and serenity to my soul: the endless, timeless love of God through forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Thank you, Lord. To God be the glory forever and ever, Amen!

©2011 Rachel Ophoff, Coconut Mountain Communications LLC. All Rights Reserved.

For more information on addiction recovery through faith in God, please visit my website at http://www.friendshipwithjesus.com/

The Exclamation Point of Surrender

*The Exclamation Point of Surrender is the first in The Serenity Prayer Series.

Just
     “God”

Not reverently, like

     “Almighty God”
     “Most High”
     “Creator of Heaven and Earth”
     “I AM WHO I AM”

Not endearingly, like

     “Dear God”
     “My Father”
     “Jesus, My Savior”
     “Oh Lord”

Not claiming a single promise, or fawning in search of favor

     “God, who relents from sending calamity”
     “God, who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine”
     “O compassionate and gracious God.”

Just one word. Without the “Dear” or the “O,” or any address whatsoever. The speaker prays with urgency. The first word of the Serenity Prayer screams immediacy, with no time for title; no need to clarify the address of the recipient or the qualifications of the sender. No “in reference to,” flowery prose, or unnecessary details. God’s child needs help, and she needs it now. So the cry goes up from the church basement or the doctor’s office or from detox in a crummy part of town. Whether this daughter of the King can’t stop drinking, or using, or finds herself in circumstances beyond her ability to endure, this much is certain: she’s desperate and knows God can help her.

All my life I believed in the existence of a Supreme Being, but I began to learn about the God of the Bible when I was a young mother many years ago. My mentor pretty much forced me to go to a Bible Study with other young moms, church ladies-in-waiting with babies in tow. I prayed with all the sincerity I could muster, but my petitions consisted mostly of “Oh God, oh God, I’m so sorry. I won’t drink again tonight, I swear.” And I meant every word of it, until about 5:00 PM. When my hands started shaking I’d reach for the brandy, just to take the edge off while I was cooking dinner. Next thing I knew it was morning and I was sorry, so sorry, I won’t do it again, I promise. This included Tuesdays, when I’d pack Catherine up and totter across town to Bible Study.

Now there was this one church lady who was quite open about being a recovering alcoholic. Secretly I watched her live and laugh and love her kids, just like the rest of us. Secretly I was in awe of her. How could she go two days without alcohol, much less the two years I spent observing her? But on a sub-zero Sunday, in an early morning service, God responded to all my apologies with a Voice that thundered through my soul. I went home, poured my brandy down the drain, and called the lady who could laugh and love and make dinner without drinking. She took me to my first AA meeting, and I heard the Serenity Prayer. I’ve loved it ever since.

Far from being a too-familiar, almost insubordinate way of addressing the Almighty, I believe that the opening word of the Serenity Prayer is the exclamation point of surrender. Our urgency admits we need help, and that help can come from Almighty God alone. In the weeks to come I’ll be sharing my experience, strength, and hope through the framework of this famous piece. If you receive this post by email, you can click on the link to visit my blog home. There you will find a copy of the prayer, as well as a very brief history. To God as He is revealed in the face of Jesus Christ- the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, be the glory; for now and evermore. Amen!

©2011 Rachel Ophoff, Coconut Mountain Communications LLC. All Rights Reserved.

For more information on recovery and Jesus, too, visit my website at http://www.friendshipwithjesus.com

 

%d bloggers like this: