Serenity Prayers Help!

Robert A. Hatcher MD, MPH

It’s amazing how often we find ourselves grasping at straws as we try to work through our approach to a difficult issue.  We may feel our heart pounding away down in our chest. Were we to take our pulse it might be frighteningly high.  Sometimes what helps so much is several deep breaths followed by the serenity prayer:

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.

Here’s a situation: A beloved person is dying of cancer.  She has come to the point when she, herself, her husband, her physicians and her minister have all decided that no more treatment is the best course. This is also what her children and her sister and brother reluctantly agree is now the right course of action.  So there is unanimous agreement with the decision that they must accept the reality that death is approaching sooner rather than later. Hospice is now involved and is helping so much.

All seem to agree that they must have the serenity to accept a reality they wish were not upon them. The question remains: what are the right steps they must have the courage to DO?   

In other words, what does the second half of the serenity prayer say to the family of this dying person?  They might conclude that what would help the most is simply for them to be there with her. To remain in relationship with her.  To pray with her. To express love and gratitude to her for her glorious life.  For all to have a sense of humor.  And sometimes it is the dying person who feels most comfortable injecting the humor. 

Diane Grant, over in Salem, South Carolina was at the bedside of her dying mother. They had been praying with her. She was eating almost nothing. She asked her mom if she was ready to die.  Her mom quipped back: “Can I finish my jello first?”

What often comes to my mind when involved in everyday decisions as well as difficult situations is that the serenity prayer could help me sort things out. Sometimes this helps me distinguish what I must have the serenity to accept and what I must have the courage to do.   

This prayer is on the lips of some people almost constantly. Each day, it seems, there are so many causes of stress in our lives.  Some days we work too many hours.  Sometimes we are too much into blaming. Sometimes we are afraid.  Sometimes we are in doubt.  Sometimes we don’t know how to help a loved one who is hurting.  The serenity prayer is remarkable.  Often it can  nudge us in the direction of a wise course of action.

Try it five times today!