Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. | Hebrews 11:1–3
We live in anxious times. In one sense this is because so many things seem so uncertain. Case in point: the Doomsday clock just got pushed closer to midnight. Having so many unknowns (and a fear of them) makes life feel chaotic.
I actually believe that the opposite is the source of our anxiety. I believe that we have become very certain and comfortable with realities that are actually outside of our control. We begin to believe the world is predictable and that people operate conventionally. We set up our lives to function within these perceived norms. Then things don’t work out as we believe they should. Life doesn’t go as planned and we are forced to rethink our norms. We jump from narrative to narrative, thinking that there is a method out there that makes sense of this static world. We want to be certain about things we have no business controlling.
I watch people go through this in their lives. This job doesn’t give me fulfillment, maybe the next one will. This spouse let me down, maybe the next one won’t. Fad after fad prey on this worldview, promising a perfect answer to the questions of life. Anxiety sets in because in this worldview: the answer is out there, you just have to find it. What if you are wrong? What are you missing? Who should you listen to?
In a sense, we are all plagued by these cross-pressures. We are all struggling to sort out the certainty from the uncertainty. What the Christian faith does is gives us the gift of clarity; it separates for us what we can be sure about and what we can’t. In this, it frees us from the anxiety that flows from trying to control the things we have no ability to. It is reminiscent of the serenity prayer which states:
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.
This prayer was written by a Reinhold Niebuhr – a theologian and philosopher – in the late 30s, but it is best known as the mantra for AA and the 12-step community. This is because for people entrenched in addiction, there is an embrace of the uncontrollable; personal limitations are acknowledged every time you say: my name is…and I am an addict. This is not a post about 12-step and addiction recovery, as much as it is a plea for us all to recognize that we are in need of assistance. We all need to learn to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to act on what we can, and God’s help to know the difference.
I am passionate about this because when we get this wrong, it makes our lives defined by frustration. It is the belief that we shouldn’t need help that makes us constantly feel like we are failing. It is the idea that we should be controlling every part of our lives that leads us to feel inadequate and worried that there is something that everyone else knows, but we don’t. When we admit that we need a help, and lean into God for that help, that we can actually find joy.
Pray this prayer, then dig into the Word to find how God has defined these two, and then live confidently under the sovereign power AND grace of Jesus Christ.