One of the problems with life in this sinful world is that sad things happen. Bad things happen. Frustrating things and inexplicable, heartrending things do, too.
Yet we are commanded to rejoice always, to give thanks in (and for) all circumstances. We are called to encourage ourselves during hard times as David did and to be patient during small frustrations. We are called to trust in God’s goodness and power as Job did.
But sometimes life is just plain hard. What do we do then? We pray. We cry. And we could become rebellious, but we should not.
To be like Job, not accusing God of wrong and not sinning with our lips, or to be like David who time and time again pointed himself back to God, it helps to think things through carefully. We need to think about what God does in our lives and about the things that upset us. Of course there are many aspects to this, but let’s look at one simple and practical approach:
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.
The writer of the Serenity Prayer had undoubtedly encountered both irritating frustration and deep disasters when he wrote these famous lines.
The question is: how can we make this practical? Try this suggestion.
- Make a list with three columns.
- In the first column we write what is upsetting us.
- In the second we write down whether or not we can change it.
- In the third column, we write ‘pray’ if we cannot change it.
- If, however, we can change it, we use the third column to list practical things we can do to make change happen, never forgetting that prayer is also a practical thing and that we can do nothing without God’s blessing.
Then we find that we can consciously leave some things to God, and can begin to change the other things.
Yes, we will still suffer. We will still cry (and that is a God-given stress reliever). But we will know what we can’t do and what we can do. We will have a list of ways to solve some of our problems. And, to our surprise, we will find that we have a practical means of banishing worry and learning to rejoice.
Being intentional about dealing with our sufferings is important. Thinking through our troubles in this way will help us suffer patiently if that is necessary, and it will help us minimize unnecessary suffering. It will help us be active in obeying the ‘rejoice!’ commands and the ‘make supplication at all times with thanksgiving’ command. It will help us avoid sinking into apathy or drifting into depression. And it will help us avoid the sin of rebelling against God.