At the end of a recent bereavement group meeting, one of the participants said "the perfect prayer," in reference to the Serenity Prayer that we had just recited together. I was intrigued by the comment, not because I didn't completely agree, but because I'd never heard anyone refer to it in that way.
There are three requests made in the prayer... one for serenity, one for courage and one for wisdom. Please join me in mulling over these three requests made in the perfect prayer.
Serenity is peace of mind. Grief, life so many other things, interrupts our peace of mind. Loss can be so painful and breathtaking... I think of the shallowness of breathing when I'm contemplating the loss of my loved one... those quick shallow breaths that, left alone, will leave my lungs longing for a deeper breath. Serenity is like a long, deep inhale of fresh air... a satisfying refill of life-giving oxygen... and with that full tank of peace I am better prepared to deal with the disappointment of loss.
William Worden has helpfully outlined "acceptance of the reality of the loss" as the first major task of mourning. Accepting death, the finality of which cannot be changed, is a task that demands a thoughtfulness that is often lost in the haze of confusion that comes with normal grief. So, it makes perfect sense to ask for "serenity to accept the things I cannot change" when confronted with our grief and having to plan ways to deal with it.
Courage is facing fear with confidence. It is not being fear-less. When I browse the list of normal manifestations of grief, it is a brutal reminder of the physical, cognitive, emotional, social and spiritual tolls that grief demands, a frightening prospect. From the fogginess of the mind, to the interruption of normal sleep and appetite, grief demands so much.
Wisdom is a beautiful combination of intelligence and discernment. The wise man builds his house on a solid foundation so that hurricane winds and rising flood waters do not destroy the house. In the context of grief, it is the wisdom to discern the difference between that which is dry cement and cannot be changed, like the finality of death, and that which demands courage to change, like the misery of loneliness or the heaviness or deep sadness.
When we sit in the room with folks who have taken that courageous step to attend a bereavement group, it is strikingly obvious that we are in the presence of special people for whom the Serenity Prayer is... "the perfect prayer."