What word could I possibly bring to the men in jail? That was the question.
Each Wednesday afternoon, I join three other men from my church, and we sit in silent meditation with a group of inmates. These men at the Lafayette County Detention Center are awaiting trial or sentencing or transfer to another, more “permanent” place of incarceration.
Both our leaders were going to be out of town, and so leadership had fallen to me. We always start the group with a reading, usually from the Psalms. Surely, the psalms of lament ring true to those behind bars — “My God, why have you forsaken me?”
I could have defaulted to the oft-quoted and ever-favorite Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd,” but I wanted to go a different route.
I have no idea what it is like to sit in jail. Guilty or not, these men face uncertain futures and life challenges of which I know nothing. The “Serenity Prayer” came to mind. Long a favorite of those in A.A., this simple prayer has given guidance to alcoholics and addicts for generations. Heck — it has given me guidance.
Originally, it was written as a prayer for worship at a small Christian congregation in Heath, Massachusetts, in the 1930s. Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote it as part of a sermon for his flock. The most common version is just three lines asking for “serenity,” “courage,” and “wisdom.” I included these words in my book, Hard Choices for Loving People, to help those facing the end of life.
In the full prayer below you can see the influence of eastern thought with suffering as a “pathway to peace” and accepting the world “as it is.” This reminds me of the current cliché, “it is what it is.” These are words for all of us, jailed or free.
Here is the complete prayer:
Prayer for Serenity
by Reinhold Niebuhr
God, give us grace
to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed,
courage to change the things which should be changed,
and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other;
living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardship as a pathway to peace;
taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is,
not as I would have it;
trusting that You will make all things right if
I surrender to Your will;
so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and
supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen
Chaplain Hank Dunn is the author of Hard Choices for Loving People: CPR, Feeding Tubes, Palliative Care, Comfort Measures and the Patient with a Serious Illness and Light in the Shadows. Together they have sold over 4 million copies. You can purchase his books at hankdunn.com or on Amazon.