Prayer Changes the One who Prays

The next prompt from Writing in the Margins…

An often-neglected line in the famous “Serenity Prayer” asks that hardships become a pathway to peace.  The prayer offers:

Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace.

Find a spot in your Bible to write and reflect on this portion of the Serenity Prayer.

I knew right away where this prayer belonged in my Bible:  Right next to Philippians 4:12–I have learned to be content in all circumstances–because the Serenity Prayer provides an excellent learning path toward that end!  I suspect that most people have a desperate moment at least once in their life where the Serenity Prayer is the best answer.  Richard Niebuhr gave the world a true gift with this prayer.  The prayer has changed lives, including my own.  I am reminded of a quote from Kierkegaard:  “Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.”

My Serenity Prayer moment came about ten years into our marriage.  After many years of hoping, I still had not become pregnant.  I was feeling somewhat desperate for a tiny miracle.   My head was filled with thoughts of infertile women from the Bible:  Sarah and Hannah.  I thought of Mary’s miraculous conception.  I prayed and I waited and waited and…then just fell apart.  I once heard someone say that not being able to conceive is one of the most stressful life experiences for a woman, and that infertility is comparable in terms of emotional distress to receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis.  I found these statements to at least validate the despair that I felt at the time.  I sought some counseling and I turned to this verse:  “I have learned to be content in all circumstances.”  I was focused on learning to be content (mostly on the learning part of it!).

In the midst of this crisis, I was talking to a friend about the importance of being content.  And he started to vehemently disagreed with me.  He said, “It’s not good to always be content.  Should I be content with injustice?”  As I explained more of what I meant, he shared with me the idea of givenness, and I asked, “What is givenness?” “Givenness is ‘What presents itself,’” he responded.  When he saw the blank look on my face, he added, “Appreciating what God has given and not trying to make everything over the way you want it to be.”  When I still had the blank look on my face, he said plainly, “The old AA motto:  The courage to change what you can, the serenity to accept the things you can’t, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  With a profound voice he added:  “The key is the wisdom to know the difference.”  So I prayed for wisdom; the answer I received was “Be patient.”; and the feeling I received was serenity.  In time, the problem resolved itself.  My husband and I were blessed with a beautiful baby boy and five years later (another long wait!) a girl, too.

I had all these thoughts running through my head as I was mentally preparing for this page.  Then our daughter got sick.  After a rough night, I took her to the doctor thinking she might have bronchitis or pneumonia, expecting to receive a prescription for some antibiotics.  Instead I received a three-day visit to the hospital.  The doctor told me, “You can run home and get your toothbrush, but don’t dawdle.”

I ran home, grabbed a few things including my toothbrush, some favorite toys for Elizabeth, and my Bible, micron pens, and some new Distress Ink pads, which were all sitting on my kitchen table.  Then we went to the hospital.

I found that spending some time with the Serenity Prayer in this setting to be both comforting and reassuring!  It helped me to accept the fact that my plans changed.  The prayer also gave me the courage to turn over to my co-workers a project for work that was about three quarters finished. Once I got over my initial feelings of resistance to the idea of not finishing something for work, which was harder than you might imagine, I simply felt gratitude that I could put my trust in my co-workers to finish the job on time without me.  I did my best to just give into the experience and enjoy one moment at time.  One of the best moments, was playing with our daughter and my new inks on the window sill of our hospital room.  Elizabeth and I enjoyed a lot of one-on-one mother-daughter time, and I felt like both of us were well cared for by the sweet nurses.  (And our son enjoyed some one-on-one time with dad!)  It was definitely three out-of-the-ordinary days that I’ll always remember; someone that I work with is fond of saying:  “Life is what happens to you when you are planning something else.”  (Our little girl has completely bounced back, but I’m still decompressing!!!)

The inks washed off our little girl and the window sill easily, but unfortunately bled through a little bit on my Bible page!  But even the bleed through—something I do my best to avoid—can be a reminder to accept the things that can’t be changed!

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One thought on “Prayer Changes the One who Prays

  1. Wow sally! I really enjoyed reading this posted. Having just met Elizabeth, I can imagine the two of you sitting at the window sill of the hospital room playing with the ink press. I have always loved the serenity prayer and your post gives me good food for thought for my own situation. Thank you! Rejane

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