My dad dressed pretty much the same his entire adult life. He wore a long-sleeve button-down shirt over a white tee shirt with the cuffs folded back twice. It was tucked into dad jeans or old man pleated pants with a leather belt. In the shirt pocket he had his checkbook, a small leatherbound notebook, and a Cross pen. In the back pocket of his pants he had his wallet with some cash, a credit card, his driver’s license, social security card, and a picture of my mom, my brother, and me, circa 1969.
In his right pants pocket he had a pocketknife, handkerchief, quarters to pull out of the ear and give to any child he met, chapstick, lifesavers, a small gold cross, and a small laminated card with the Serenity Prayer written on it.
My dad took his last drink of alcohol in 1977 when I was a senior in high school. But, he carried that card in his pocket until he died in August of 2013, just shy of his 83rd birthday. Most people know the Serenity Prayer as the mantra for AA and other 12-step programs. It’s a simple prayer. It asks God to grant us:
Simple, yes in words. Easy to remember. But, often O! so hard to do!
When I was young, the wisdom part was sorely lacking. Sure, I knew what I was doing when I dropped out of college at 19 and married my boyfriend and moved 1000 miles away from my small town and family. Four years later I finally got up the courage to admit that I needed help getting myself and our 6-month-old daughter out of an unstable and potentially dangerous relationship.
Still, what I thought was courage and wisdom was mostly hubris. Because there’s nothing bad that can’t be fixed – changed – if you really put your mind to it. Right? Yet, for some reason my life was anything but serene.
When my mom died of breast cancer at age 62 in 1994, of course my dad grieved. But, they had come to accept together that her cancer was not going to be cured. They had a fancy celebration for their 40th wedding anniversary because they knew that was the last milestone one they would reach.
How did my dad just accept that this chapter of his life was closing? How did he have the courage a few years later to marry again and bring his new wife to the small town where he and my mother grew up and where he pastored at the little Methodist Church? (How did he have the courage to pastor at that church where everyone in the congregation knew every single thing he had done in his entire life?)
Because he knew where wisdom, courage, and yes, serenity come from. Not from the things we do or don’t do. Not from bravado and grasping at the next shiny thing. Not from railing angrily at the world when things don’t go as planned.
My dad knew that serenity, courage, and wisdom are a gift from God. He grants them to us. But, we have to ask. We have to realize that we need them and what they really mean. Wisdom (discernment, good judgement, knowledge gained through experience) is a gift God gives us if we let Him lead us through life. Courage (the ability to face something that frightens us) is granted through our acceptance that God is with us always, even when things are hard, bad, scary, or tragic.
And Serenity (“the peace that passes all understanding”) comes when we lay it all at the feet of Jesus. There will be things in this life that we cannot change. A broken marriage. A fatal illness. The death of a child. We may not understand why these things happen. But, if we ask, God will grant us the serenity to accept that He has a purpose and a promise of a future far greater than we can ever imagine.
You can carry that in your pocket.