Live by the Serenity Prayer

In the early 1930s, Reinhold Niebuhr was attributed to first creating the “serenity prayer” in his sermons.  Winnifred Crane Wygal, a pupil of Niebuhr, included the prayer in her 1940 book, We Plan Our Own Worship Services,attributing it to Niebuhr. The prayer has been adapted and changed into what we read below today and is used in many mental health and 12-step programs.

sprayer

To break down the ideas in this simple prayer:

  • Don’t sweat small stuff
  • Accept things you cannot control or
    Let them go
  • Pray more for wisdom and strength.

Stress and the Serenity prayer

This is a simple prayer or phrase to remember and remind yourself when you are feeling stressed out. It is freeing to realize that we do not have to control everything, as humans, we cannot control everything. Instead it is helpful to have a higher power to take control of the things we cannot control. Although, this statement can be adapted for people who do not recognize a higher power. The principles are still true, despite religion. You are only in control of yourself and no one else. While in life, there are many things that one cannot control, so the goal is to let those things go and not stress out about those things.

Letting go of what you can’t control

Last week, I looked at the Serenity prayer and focused with an example on some things we can control when stressors come. Today, I want to help by giving tips for the flipside, what about the things we cannot control?

Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

In this prayer, there is an element of faith, of a God . There is an element of change and an element of acceptance. Some things we cannot change, while other things we can. So regarding the things that we cannot change, what are we left to do?

Being able to accept things that we cannot change does involve faith. In faith circles, the term is to “let go” of things, of stress and worry for example. But this idea of “letting go” is a difficult thing to define. Especially for people who do not believe in God, letting go is still not an easy task. The definition means to “giving permission or opportunity.” In the sense of how it is used to “let go” of worry, is really like “letting go” if a girlfriend after a break-up. It is giving permission to be free. So when we talk about accepting things that we cannot change, we are able to let them go from our worrying minds. Our minds can be free of these worries!

One last thing  that is really helpful when those fleeting thoughts do come back to us is the use of relaxation techniques. Many of my clients find this simple muscle relaxation technique to be
extremely effective, especially before going to bed:

Begin by finding a comfortable position sitting, standing, or lying down. First focus on breathing. Breathe in forcefully and deeply, and hold this breath. You should be able to count to 5 or even 6 (in your head) as the oxygen enters and and then again as it exits. Let all the air go out slowly, with
it release all the tension. You should see your chest expand and feel it collapse. After about five deep, long breathes we focus on each individual muscle groups but we want to continue this breathing pattern through-out the exercise.

Start with the muscles on your two feet. Tighten all the muscles of your feet. Count to five while holding this tension. Do a final squeeze! Then relax. Let all the tension go. Feel the muscles in your feet go limp, loose, and relaxed. Your feet are not heavy. Notice how relaxed the muscles feel now. Feel the difference between tension and relaxation. Enjoy the pleasant feeling of relaxation in your feet.

I have my clients do their feet first then move up the body, all the way to their head/face. We follow the same basic instructions just instead of “feet,” I say “legs” or “arms.” Throughout the exercise, I stop and remind the client to continue to focus again on their breathing. They need to have slow, even, regular breaths.

This is a simple trick but it really does work and focusing on breathing is scientifically proven to lower heart-rate. sometimes I add things to this technique if the client or I am feeling tired of this same technique. A simple addition is to add another relaxed meditation to it. I like to tell the
clients that they are on a cloud and explain how everything is soft, peaceful, solace and comfortable. There are many similar setting and scenarios that can enable relaxation.

One simple way to dramatically improve your life

It does seem so simple. From a distance it does not seem like it is even worthy of a drum-roll. Although, it is worth it and so much more. This simple adjustment in your life can reduce your stress level, lift your mood and help you focus on what is important. This key behavior is an attitude modification.  Let me explain:

Instead of reacting to stress or crisis, learn to respond.
Instead of letting circumstances determine our mindset, master the skill of adjusting your attitude despite the circumstances.
Instead of letting the present here-and-now trouble control our emotions and thinking, contemplate hope, realize the trouble is temporary and maintain a positive outlook.

The simple serenity prayer is a great reminder. I say this everyday:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

*[Serenity = peace of mind.]


How-to:

Let me offer some example. Imagine that there is a last minute office meeting in the board room, completely unplanned. You are put on the spot by your boss (the managing director of the building) to present to his boss (the CEO of the company). You are stressing out! The situation is stressful! Your first initial thoughts are not pleasant (“What am I doing?” “What am I suppose to say?”  ” I want to hurt my boss, he should have given me a heads up!” “I am not going to look good.” “I hate this” – you get the idea). That initial thought is followed with emotions (nervous, stress, anxious, scared, embarrassedunprepared, unworthy) and physical sensation (heart racing, mind cluttered, sweating, nerve pain, shallow quick breathing, blushing, chest tightness, tense muscles, light-headed, feeling out of control and fatigue). All three of these (initial cognitive thoughts, body’s reaction and emotional toll) of these naturally lead to a natural behavior (running to the bathroom, being tense and clamming up in the board room, raging anger towards boss in spite or sarcasm or worse a meltdown). 

All of these behaviors are common natural reactions. Although, instead of behaving naturally, it is better to stop at each step and learn how to respond instead of merely react. The concept is simple in theory but in implementation it takes some practice. So first when we have those initial cognitive mental thoughts regarding a stressor, realize these are natural reactions. Everyone has these fleeting thoughts. The first thing we can do is instead of agree and listen to these thoughts, we can ignore them, or better, we can dispute them by thinking about the situation more rationally. 
The second step is in the emotions and physical sensations, again these are natural feelings. At first it is very difficult to ignore these emotions. We shouldn’t. It is good to acknowledge these emotional feelings and research where they are coming from and why. Bottling up emotions is negative. Somethings just talking to someone is the biggest help.
Finally, our behavior. After having a bad day emotionally and cognitively, it is easy to just react with negative behavior. Although, even after dealing with emotions and thinking, we may still desire to do something negative emotionally. We still have to think about it. We still have a choice to make. We can, with some practice, choice to behave in a positive manner, even after a long negative day full of stressors. 

Going back to the example, instead of embarrassing yourself and making the CEO and your boss like fools, you told yourself quietly  that “I can do this!” and “I am awesome.” Positive self-talk disputes the negative thinking. Second you feel the anxiety but instead of letting it eat away at you, you choose to strike a confident posture and breathe deeply through-out the entire meeting. When the meeting is over you talk to your boss privately about how you were actually feeling. Also when you get home, you deal with more of your negative with your supportive spouse (ideally). Finally the behavior in the board room is driven my the positive reaction you are maintaining. Instead of despising your boss and acting immature, you are flexible and professional. You do your best honest work given the circumstances.  



Will God answer your prayer to make life easier?

Only 2 times in New Testament (that I know of) did someone ask God to make life easier…both times God said NO!

The first and primary example is of Jesus. Matthew 26:39 “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass away from me. Yet, not as I will, but as you will.” The Lord Jesus Christ asks God the Father if there is another way to fulfill His Will right before he is betrayed by Judas and captured to be crucified for our sins. There was no other way. The cup would not pass from Christ.

The second example is of Paul. In 2 Cor. 12, Paul explains how he asked God to remove a thorn from his side three times. Yet, God said no. God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”

In American culture we are determined to get what we want when we want it. We are determined to pray for our the easiest life possible. This is not always what God wants.

Sad Times call for Real Action

I am calling on us as Christians living in America – all of the comforts, blessings, and entitlements to take a step back for just a few minuets read my post and ask God a question. And deal with what He might be calling you to do.

Recently with in the past 2-3 weeks- 2 Asian countries have been dealt with by nature in some incredible ways. First in Myanmar/ Burma:

On May 3, 2008, Cyclone Nargis devastated the country when winds of up to 250kph (150 mph) touched land in the densely populated, rice-farming delta of the Irrawaddy Division.

Recent reports estimate that more than 130,000 people are dead or missing from Cyclone Nargis that hit the country’s Irrawaddy delta. Shari Villarosa, who leads the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon, said the number of dead could eventually exceed 140,800 because of illnesses and injury. Adds the World Food Programme, “Some villages have been almost totally eradicated and vast rice-growing areas are wiped out.”

Then not long at all and not very far away from Myanmar another horrible event took place in China:

The 2008 Sichuan earthquake (Chinese: 四川大地震), at a magnitude 8.0 Ms/ 7.9 Mw, occurred at 14:28:01.42 CST on 12 May 2008 in Sichuan province of China. In China, it was named the Wenchuan earthquake (Chinese: 汶川大地震), after the earthquake’s epicenter in Wenchuan County in Sichuan province. The epicenter was 80 kilometres (50 mi) west-northwest of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, with a depth of 19 kilometres (12 mi)] The earthquake was felt as far away as Beijing (1,500 km away) and Shanghai (1,700 km away), where office buildings swayed with the tremor. The earthquake was also felt in nearby countries.

Official figures (as of May 19, 12:00 CST) state that 34,073 are confirmed dead, including 33,570 in Sichuan province, and 245,108 injured. The Chinese government warned that the death toll could soar to 50,000. Tens of thousands are missing, approximately 14,000 of them buried, and eight provinces were affected. The earthquake left about 4.8 million people homeless. It was the deadliest and strongest earthquake to hit China since the 1976 Tangshan earthquake, which killed over 240,000 people.

Does your heart not break? Mine has.
I am asking you to do one thing:

Pray

1. Pray for the victims, victim families, governments, aide to come, etc

2. Pray asking God how you and your community of friends, family, etc can help

There are a lot of aide based groups, a lot of financial groups you can donate money to, other groups where you can donate food, clothing, and create aid boxes to ship over seas.

and if you are called, there are groups who need volunteers to go overseas to help.

My point is that we as wealthy Christians SHOULD do something. We are called by God to do something. We are called by God to share our blessings that we do not even realize we have – come on we live in America- we have EVERYTHING. At the very least please, pray.