God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
This little prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr, made familiar by its common use in 12-step programs, is generally known as “the serenity prayer.” Its advice echoes the question Jesus asks his followers in the gospel for this Sunday, “can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” (Mt 6:27) Yet most of us are unable to break free of cycles of compulsive worrying.
Oddly enough, worrying often has its roots in our mistaken notion that we’re in control of the world around us. While the world is certainly filled with “things that should be changed,” we bristle against the idea that much of life lies outside our control. In a world that values independence, the truth of our radical dependence – on people we will never know, on each other, on God – offends us.
The challenge of faith is not bringing yourself to believe a set of predetermined truths, it is allowing yourself to trust that you are held in the hands of a loving Creator, that you are radically dependent on one you can rely on to tend to your needs. Psalm 131 gives us a picture of this trust, “I still my soul and make it quiet, like a child who has been satisfied on its mother’s breast; my soul is quieted within me.”