Don Follis: A bit of serenity for the holidays

Don Follis: A bit of serenity for the holidays

One of my main prayers has just two words: Thank you. Around the dinner table we sing this simple prayer, "For health and strength and daily food, we praise your name, O Lord."

As a young boy in the 1960s, I sang the centuries-old "Come Ye Thankful People, Come" with elementary-school children across America. The hymn begins, "Come Ye Thankful People come. Raise the song of harvest home. All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin."

I always wondered what "ere" meant — "ere the winter storms begin." Well, it means before, as in "before the winter storms begin." Thus, thanksgiving is offered for the ability to gather in the harvest before the winter comes.

Is the winter coming? Of course, and as we all know, it may have nothing to do with frigid temperatures. One thing is certain about giving thanks for your many blessings. You don't give thanks while avoiding or denying reality — the coming winter.

Yes, winter is coming! This last week hearts went out to the people in the Philippines who were devastated by the worst Typhoon ever recorded, flattening the city of Tacloban.

When life comes right at us, as it always does, I find myself repeatedly turning to the famous Serenity prayer. Known to millions the world over, the prayer is attributed to American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who penned the prayer around 1940. It was printed and given to American troops during WW II, and it has been used for decades at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

In my view, it's the perfect Thanksgiving prayer. I encourage you to repeatedly pray it during the stressful holidays.

"Grant me the serenity [the peace] to accept the things I cannot change." How much of life is in your control anyway? Not your age, not the weather, not what other drivers do and not what people say about you behind your back. There's just a whole lot that's not within your control.

"Grant me the courage to change the things I can." You can change your attitude. You can smile more. You can change the tone of your voice. You can quit gossiping, with God's help. When things blow up at home you can go walk around the block and ask God what he wants you to do before you fly off the handle and say and do something you'll regret. You can practice the disciplines of silence and of not getting your own way on Thanksgiving Day, O ye of much entitlement.

"And grant me the wisdom to know the difference." There is no virtue greater than wisdom. The writer of Proverbs says nothing compares to getting wisdom. So when do we speak up? When do we just let it go? When do we push in toward others? When do we give others space? Some things we can change. Some things we can't. Pray that this Thanksgiving you will be anointed with wisdom from on high.

Those three lines comprise the Serenity Prayer many people know. But the original prayer does not end there. It continues:

"Living one day at a time." Let yesterday go, friends. It's gone. Quit kicking yourself about what you did. And don't be boasting about tomorrow. "We only have today," said Mother Teresa.

"Living one moment at a time." Drill down and you discover you really just have this moment. So what are you going to say in the meeting you are in right now? Are you going to dissociate and think about tomorrow, over which you have no control, or are going to be present this very moment? Hello? Are you here? Or are your eyes glued to your Smart Phone?

"Accepting hardship at the pathway to peace." One person said, "You are either about to enter a storm. You are in the midst of a storm, or you are leaving the storm." Talk about a counter-intuitive statement. Most of us work hard to eliminate storms and hardships from our lives. But who is it who allays our fears and anxiety? Who is the one who created us and who sustains us day by day, even with hardships aplenty buffeting us?

"Taking, as He did, this world as it is, not as I would have it." Do you bury your head in the sand, hoping against hope that everyone on the planet will somehow get a fresh batch of Christmas cookies sitting on a spotless kitchen counter? That's called denial. Church father John Wesley faced reality head-on when he said, "Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as you can."

"Trusting that he will make all things new if I surrender to his will." The hardest step, by far, by far, in the 12-step program is step one: admitting that you are powerless. Who wants to admit to being powerless? And yet, can you do this life on your own, really? Does any have enough self-will to overcome adversity? Do you really want to take your fate upon yourself? What does it mean to you when you pray, "Your kingdom come; your will be done on earth as it is in heaven?"

"That I may be reasonably happy in this life and eternally happy with Him forever in the next life." What is reasonable happiness? Try this. Make a list of 25 things for which you are thankful. Now go take a walk and ponder your list. Without question the happiest people in the world are the most grateful people.

The Serenity Prayer ends by acknowledging that we are not home yet. That home, the one where lays our true citizenship and eternal happiness, is in heaven.

Let's be real. The holidays for the vast majority will not be heaven on earth. So please, say the Serenity Prayer over and over again, interjecting my favorite two-word prayer: Thank you.

Don Follis has pastored in Champaign-Urbana for 35 years. He directs retreats and coaches leaders via Contact him at, and you can follow him on Twitter at @donfollis.

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