What is Serenity and How can I grow in it?

In Lent, a gift to seek is greater serenity. The word comes from the Latin serenus, meaning clear or unclouded (skies). By extension it thus means calm, without storm.

Serenity has become more used in modern times with the advent of many 12-Step programs which use the serenity prayer as an important help to their work.

Perhaps the closest Greek word to serenity is γαλήνη (galene) and it is used most specifically when Jesus stood in the boat, rebuked the storm and there was a great calm, a serenity (cf Matt 8:26). In this sense we can see how true serenity must come as a gift from God. For the storms of life can overwhelm and overpower us. So we need to seek serenity from God and receive it from him.

My own personal experience of serenity is that it is a calm and peaceful joy, an experience that everything is alright, everything is in God’s hands.

I would like to look at four sayings that are related to serenity. I am not exactly sure where I first got them. They were in a collection of old clippings I had from years ago. Recently I rediscovered them, along with other clippings. These sayings both describe serenity (often without using the word) and also describe its sources. Let’s look at them one by one, with a little commentary by yours truly. The sayings take the form of the stories of the desert Fathers but I am quite sure they are modern reflections put in the older form.

1. The disciples ask the master, “Are there ways for gauging one’s spiritual strength?” “Many,” said the master. “Give us one,” beseeched the disciples. And the master responded, “Find out how often you become disturbed in the course of a single day.”

For the normal Christian life is to be increasingly free from anger, anxiety and disturbance. This results from the increasing trust that faith begets. The closer our walk with God and our experience of his love for us, the more inconsequential is the hatred of the world, the insensitivity of others. We are increasingly untroubled that we are not praised or promoted, for God’s love is more and more enough for us, and is experienced as real. We are less obsessed with what others think of us. Our fears give way to a powerful experience of God’s loving providence and his capacity to make a way out of no way.

Anger and inner turmoil abates as we leave vengeance to God and are less prone to anger in the first place. This is because most anger is rooted in fear, and as fear gives way to trust, the cause of much of our anger is gone. Gratitude for the graces we have received makes jealousy and envy less possible. Disturbances diminish overall.

Yes, serenity is a true indicator of spiritual progress. The increasing lack of disturbances in our day is a sign of God’s work in our soul. Here is a gift to be sought.

2. Sometimes there would be a rush of noisy visitors and the silence of the monastery would be shattered. This would upset the disciples; not the Master, who seemed just as content with the noise as with the silence. To his protesting disciples he said one day, “Silence is not the absence of sound, but the absence of self.”

For it often happens that even when we go to pray, and there is physical silence, yet our minds are filled with many concerns. But the deepest prayer is to be caught up in God, to be gifted with contemplative silence. This silence is within and cannot easily be disrupted by the physical noises of the world; for it is a deep, inner, spiritual serenity that envelopes the soul. It is a peace that the world did not give, and world cannot take away. Here too is a gift to seek from God: a deep an inner serenity.

3. To a disciple who was forever complaining about others the Master said, “If it is peace you want, seek to change yourself, not other people. It is easier to protect your feet with slippers, than to carpet the whole of the earth.”

There is an old saying, “If I get better, others get better too.” The reform and transformation of the whole world begins with me. There is great serenity to be found in staying in our own lane and working our own issues.

Much anger is abated in a marriage when an aggrieved spouse says within, “My marriage is not perfect because I am in it.” Perfect marriages, perfect churches, perfect families, perfect workplaces do not exist because there are no perfect people to populate them. And the imperfection begins with me. There is serenity in realizing and accepting this.

Unrealistic expectations (e.g. that others should be perfect) are premeditated resentments. And resentments rob us of serenity.

It is true that we must engage in properly ordered fraternal correction. But fraternal correction has little impact without humility and the serenity that defuses the difficultly of the moment correction is administered.

4. “How can I be a great man like you?” “Why be a great man?” said the Master. “Being a man is a great enough achievement.”

For it often happens that we become imbued with unrealistic dreams for our self. It is not wrong to have dreams, but we must also come to accept that it is God who ultimately assigns us our place in his kingdom.

One of the great secrets of serenity is to gradually discover the man or woman God has created us to be. Simply becoming what we are and were made to be and respecting what God is doing, is a great source of serenity. God alone can give us this self knowledge of his plan for us.

Scripture says, LORD, my heart is not proud; nor are my eyes haughty. I do not busy myself with great matters, with things too sublime for me. Rather, I have stilled my soul, hushed it like a weaned child. Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap, so is my soul within me. (Psalm 131:1-2)

There is a story about Rabbi Eliezer who said, I have often said to myself, “Eliezer, why are you not more like Moses? Moses was a great man!” But then it occurs to me that if I do that, God will one day say to me, “Eliezer, why were you not Eliezer?”

Yes, there is serenity in not trying to be others.

Just a few thoughts on serenity. In the Scriptures Jesus brought serenity by calming the storm that night in the boat.

Interesting thought. Did you notice that Jesus slept right through most of the storm and had to be awakened by the frightened disciples that night? Who was right, Jesus to be calm, or the disciples to be panicked? You decide.

Final thought – Most people have heard the Serenity Prayer. But the widely known part is only a part of slightly longer prayer. The Author of the prayer is disputed, but the full prayer is here:

  • GOD, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
  • Courage to change the things I can,
  • and the wisdom to know the difference.
  • Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time;
  • Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.
  • Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it.
  • Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will;
  • That I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.
  • Amen

This song says, When peace like a river attendeth by way, when sorrows like sea billows roll. Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, “It is well, it is well with my soul.”

17 Replies to “What is Serenity and How can I grow in it?”

  1. “It is easier to protect your feet with slippers, than to carpet the whole of the earth.”

    I like that. Nice quote.

    “One of the great secrets of serenity is to gradually discover the man or woman God has created us to be.” And who or what did He make us to be?

    He created us to love. Truly love. And such love must be selflessly turned outward, and not selfishly focused inward, to succeed and bear fruit. He who would be first will be last. If love is all about me, me, me — making me happy, then it is destined to fail. Loving in this way is, of course, a choice, a conscious decision to make a gift of self.

    And the more that you are disposed to this real love, the better you are able to love and find love in male-female and other interpersonal relationships. The more that you have a loving inner disposition, the more potential mates you will encounter.

    With true love in the heart, the universe of possible mates grows. The more you are disposed to love, the more you will be able to see the good qualities in others, the more you will be able to see with the eyes of the heart, as God who is Love sees, rather than the misleading eyes of the head. These others thus become more physically attractive, more intelligent, more humorous, more enjoyable.

    However, the more you are turned inward, seeking to satisfy yourself, complaining that there are no good men or women out there, the more trouble you will have finding them. A perfect Christian, embracing love perfectly, should be able to be united to anyone and be attracted to them, and desire them, and want to be with them, because they have love, and they see in the other the image of Christ.

  2. Serenity is the thing that I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. I can find peace of mind but that’s conditional like happiness and hunger. Serenity is unconditional.

  3. I have been involved in 12 Steps for many years – both as a practioner and a sponsor – and I think this is one of the best writings on serenity for Christians in recovery that I have yet read. I am deifnitely saving and sharing this one, Thank you.

  4. This is very helpful and accessible regarding the spiritual life. Sometimes spiritual advice is vague and sounds impossible just to comprehend, but this is down to earth.

    Thank you for writing! I feel I can grow a lot from reflecting on this…and how often I am disturbed during a day.

  5. This is wonderful Monsignor. a definite “Save” file. Thank you and May God grant you many more years of inspiring teaching. Gratefully yours.

  6. I’ve been a participant in God’s gift the Twelve Steps for a few years and have encountered the first part of the Serenity Prayer as a popular conclusion to meetings. The part in the main article about “One of the great secrets of serenity is to gradually discover the man or woman God has created us to be” points to what I feel is the greatest gift I’ve received.
    The onset of serenity was also of great value since it began for me, at about a year and a half after truly beginning to work the Steps and, at first, amounted to about 5 minutes at intervals of about 2 or 3 times per week. Growth is truly a process and those early experiences were definitely better than no serenity for about 40 years. These days I no longer call a numbing of emotions serenity or similar name.
    Interesting about the definition, “clear or unclouded (skies.)” The sight which we see beyond our atmosphere when we look up (at a cloudless time, sepecially at night) are sometimes called the “heavens” This may be about a secular viewpoint but, I suspect some metaphorical value if we are willing to accept that there is more than what our five senses and technological devices can detect. Yes, the heavens are always there – even on a dark, stormy and cloudy nihgt (time)

  7. Oh I needed this. “This is because most anger is rooted in fear, and as fear gives way to trust, the cause of much of our anger is gone.”

    Whenever I get angry, which unfortunately is often, I can usually look back and realize my anger stemmed from fear. Even a little fear can lead to a big angry outburst.

    Praying for greater trust in Him, who created me and loves me.

  8. I heard a song once, by this guy named Paul Westerberg, that had this sentiment: “You traded in your storm for an intense calm that just won’t let you be”–or something to that effect. There is something to be said for the storms, in my opinion. I googled the lyrics from the song We May Be the Ones:

    “Smoke cigarette butts
    from your brother’s green helmet.
    He wore in that war
    Once, where everyone lost.
    And they taught him to pour
    Coffee and napalm.
    And trade in his storm
    for an intense calm
    That just won’t let him be.

    We may well be the ones.
    To set this world on its ear.
    We may well get it done.
    Why the hell else are we here?”

    My theory is that most people have about forty hours of hell inside of themselves that they best get out of themselves by working for about forty hours a week.

    1. “forty hours of hell inside of themselves that they best get out of themselves”
      Could that be a result of confusing Serenity with the calm at the eye of the storm which is still a part of the storm?
      Also, getting the right thing done just might set the world on its ear but, setting the world on its ear may not get the best thing done. However there’s a good point here which reminds me of the saying; “If a starving man in a garret burns brightly enough he’ll set fire to the world.

  9. Somewhere, this Pope, I think said that people who have hope behave differently. My best understanding is that Catholic families, overall, behave the same as other Christian and non-Christian families when it comes to having kids, 2.1 kids or somethings like that. Suppose Catholic families had a bunch of kids, 4, 5, 6, or 7, or more and everyone else was still at 2.1 They would look at us and say, “Those Catholics must be nuts. They must be crazy. What is inside of them that isn’t inside of us?”–and that would be a good question. And I think we would appear a lot more noisy and storm-like than we do now, but that inside, both individually and corporately, we would have more inner peace or serenity.–and the government would think twice about making strange rules for us.

    1. I agree with RichardC. My husband and I have four children whom we love dearly. It’s the best thing we’ve ever done. If I could live life over, I’d go for 7 or more.

  10. Praise the Lord for any degree of hope we have each day. It seems to me that higher degree of hope most often comes when one is calm and serene. Praying just before bed does help get you right with the Lord and certainly gives you that peace that he is in control of things and we are not; therefore giving a great taste of Serenity.

  11. “Gratitude for the graces received…”

    Perhaps no one would or could be envious if each realized how much God loves him.

  12. Thank you for clearing my head. i walk up at 5:40am, had 2 prayers 1(st Thomas’) 2(serenity).just because it was short prayer, why i opted for it. but something strange happened .Was yet to knock a motor bike with 4 pasengers, & immediately after driving for other 10 metres another school boy rode direct to ma car bonet. i dont know how he survived hitting on it but immediately my thoughts were rhiming these words.serenity prayer…serenity…..serenity.so i had to find out.again thank you.b

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