This was originally posted as a column on the Grandin Media website in September 2020.
In youth ministry, we often try to use object lessons to bring talks or lessons to life. This often translates into something the youth would take home from a particular youth night: a printed copy of a prayer, a sacramental, or even a fun trinket meant to help them remember what was taught that night. Over the ten years I worked as a parish youth minister, we sent a lot of prayers, sacramentals, and trinkets home – I often wonder how many of my former youth still possess some of them today.
When I went to youth group twenty-five years ago, I remember that one Friday night our youth minister sent us home with a small yellow card. On one side of it was printed the Serenity Prayer:
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.
This yellow card lived in my wallet for a long time, so much so that it’s pretty thin these days. In recent weeks, I have pinned it to the bulletin board beside my desk. I’m not sure my youth minister would remember printing this card for all of us, but I’m fairly certain there hasn’t been a time in my life that this prayer has mattered more to me than it does now.
Though people who knew me in my teen years would never have guessed this, I’ve turned into a bit of a control freak. I plan out the upcoming school year (and visits to ten schools) the previous March. Each fall, I make a series of resolutions for the ways in which I hope to be holier, healthier, and more loving by the time that school year is over. When the Covid-19 shutdown hit last spring, all of my plans and resolutions were put on pause. And although I keep hearing the phrase “near normal” bandied about, a colleague said to me last week “I’m still waiting for the “normal” in all of this. He’s right. Mass isn’t normal. Work isn’t normal. School isn’t normal. Sports and grocery shopping and taking the kids to the park – none of it is normal. While I find my prayer often gets distracted into wondering when or how all of this is going to end… the feeling I’ve felt over and over again these last six months has been a deep-seated sense of powerlessness.
It’s precisely here that I’ve started to realize the meaning behind the words “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” It’s easy to look at all that’s going on that isn’t normal, and to feel overwhelmed by how helpless I am to do anything about it. If I can learn what it means to be serene in the face of all of this, there’s an opportunity here. God is present in the midst of this, and He wants to speak to us in the midst of all the “not normal” we’re experiencing in these days. We simply need to learn to become still in order to be able to pay better attention to what He’s trying to say.
On the other hand, it is certainly tempting to just throw my hands up and say these are unprecedented times… and let that become an excuse not to do much of anything. The truth is even though all of this “near-normal” doesn’t feel like normal at all, there are some bad habits I both had before coronavirus and some others I’ve picked up these last months. Doing nothing would mean I’m missing God’s call to move towards Him regardless of the circumstances outside me. I desperately need the courage to change the things I can to grow past my weaknesses and, in turn, to become holier, healthier, and more loving.
I’ve always been aware of my need for wisdom. I think it’s part of why I jumped at the opportunity to study theology years ago – and why my library continues to grow with new spiritual books. But in these days, I most definitely need the wisdom to know the difference between those areas of my life God is calling me to work on and those things I need to trust to His divine providence.
So, I find myself living a September unlike any I’ve ever known, praying those words I first learned twenty-five years ago at youth group more regularly than I ever have before. It’s unlikely that my youth minister could have known that little card would mean so much so many years later – but I am most grateful she made them for us.
God, grant me the serenity, the courage, and the wisdom… to face today, and to encounter You here.