Posts Tagged ‘serenity prayer’

Living A Moral Life

Sunday, January 11th, 2015

I think the phrase “living in a more innocent time” is biased.

Those who be-bopped in the 1940’s might reminisce of an era when daily life was centered on one’s immediate neighborhood, and a view of the world remained unfiltered through the tube of a television set.

For those who grew up in the 1980’s, living it “old school” might refer to relief from disco music and a world before everyone was surgically tethered to their mobile devices.

For Baby Boomers like me who grew-up in the ’50’s and early ’60’s, for the most part it was a time of button-down shirts and “follow the established path”.  The message I got from my Mom and Step-Father was: “Study hard, get good grades, go to college – and more than anything else – be a good person. Stay focused and maintain a high moral standard and you’ll be a success in life.”

As a child I doubt that I entirely understood their criteria, but today if I had to guess a list of the components in their definition of high moral standards, I think it might look something like this:

1) Act With Integrity – I should be fair, tell the truth, not cheat anyone, complete the tasks laid out for me, and do what I know is right.

2) Be Responsible – pay my bills, work in a manner which lets others know I’m reliable and dependable, follow through and recognize that my actions effect others.

3) Be Kind – understand that, despite my surprise, the world doesn’t just revolve around me. I should give others a chance, and whenever possible create an environment in which they can flourish and succeed. Instead of taking someone hostage in a conversation talking only about myself and my troubles, instead I can be a good listener as well as an effective communicator. Most of all, I should remember that empathy, giving of my time and being of service are the most inexpensive, yet most invaluable gifts I can offer to anyone.

4) Respect My Relationships – I don’t get to hurt people for the sake of my own momentary gratification.  I should acknowledge my opportunities for physical interaction, but not act on every impulse just because I have it.

5) Be My Own Version Of “Courageous” – not the comic book variety, but seize real life opportunities to voice my opinions, help others who can use a hand, and find strength to walk through my life’s challenges even when I think I can’t, and..

6) Be Grateful – even when I feel like I’ve got less than someone else, because in reality I’ve probably got more than my share.

But in truth, from my vantage point today, I know that life isn’t always as clear cut as just following the rules; our lives are rarely the straight lines our parents hoped they’d be.

At this second decade of the twenty-first century, in the midst of a technological revolution which creates miracles of communication and improvement in virtually every arena of our lives – along with all the marvels has come an undeniable, unprecedented blur of the necessity of living by a strong moral code.

Where we used to only occasionally see on television or read in newspapers of the ill-gotten rewards of others of lesser moral standards, today those people and their greed are thrust in front of us twenty-four hours a day on our phones, tablets and 70″ 4K bigger-than-life screens.

We see self-serving politicians and liars and cheaters of every variety amassing financial fortunes and throwing it in our faces – either gloating in their riches or cajoling us to join them with messages of “screw the other guy – let me teach you my shortcuts and you’ll live like I do – for a small one-time fee of $299 plus shipping charges.”

More and more, vulgarity, violence, ridicule and immorality seem to be the order of the day. Kim Kardashian, a woman who has risen to fame solely on the basis of horrific personal choices, has 27.5 million followers on Twitter. We shudder to think how many of them are young people who read her worst-of-all-possible-role-model thoughts every hour, and are influenced by her absentee values and misguided actions every single day.

And via today’s films, courage is often portrayed as oafish slackers bucking the system or cartoonish, tattooed Tough Guys and Tough Girls serving-up portions of indiscriminate violence and deafening explosions, blowing-up everything in sight – no matter how defenseless or sacred the targets – with an inevitable final scene showing utter hopelessness and facing “the end of the world as we know it”.

And saddest of all, personal dignity and potentially meaningful relationships are under assault. Insidious, deceptively casual terms like “hooking-up” and “friends with benefits” not only tell young women they shouldn’t hold onto the precious gift of giving themselves, but are expected not to do so. It’s no longer a question of “Should I?”, but instead “Am I going to do it tonight or wait all the way until tomorrow?”

And for those in committed relationships, there’s foul-mouthed talk show hosts on satellite radio promoting websites which enable married men and women to more easily become serial adulterers.

So the question becomes “What does living a moral life in today’s society look like?” and more importantly, “Why should I bother?”

Lest I paint myself a hypocrite, I’m no prude.  I’m a musician – how could I be? And I’m also no expert. I’m neither a sociologist nor clergy, and I can’t tell you where in the Bible it says how we should conduct ourselves in 2015.  To tell you the truth, in the last few weeks, knowing I was going to speak on this topic to my synagogue congregation, I struggled for an answer.

Surprisingly, I found the jumping-off point for my resolution in, of all places, social media.

I found it on Facebook.

As I was reading the other day, I began to realize that for every post advocating some kind of dehumanizing something-or-other, there are fifty posts instead celebrating the goodness of life:

A young father’s video of his son hitting his first home run…  a gifted photographer showing a picture of a Colorado sunset that she took and edited on her phone. Slogan after slogan from one person after another talking about encouragement, insight and valuing the sanctity of every day of our precious lives… and a hundred birthday wishes to a guy who maybe needs to be reminded that so many people are glad he’s around.

A video of a seventy-year-old war veteran flying in formation at a festival, with his son in the next plane over.. a woman bravely battling cancer sharing her view from her room in the hospital.

And a daughter proudly showing pictures every day of her eight-month-old twin boys, so a Grandpa three thousand miles away and all his friends can see that God, in His Almighty wisdom, has given her the healing gift of being the spectacular mother she was clearly meant to be.

And there it was, there was that word: “God”.

I almost forgot.

Whether it’s 1945 or 2015, I believe God’s still here. No matter how disagreeable the actions of others or how much they’re thrown in my face, I believe that God’s still with me –  and the better life I live, the closer I get to stay to Him.

I shouldn’t need to be reminded that real courage starts with taking the high road and surviving life’s toughest challenges – not with the size of an actor’s bicep or some depressed screenwriter’s imagination.

And I have to remember that every generation of kids have undue influences thrown at them – and yet somehow God watches over them and most of them somehow miraculously survive.

And the temptations of sleazy websites are really nothing new: opportunities for husbands and wives to violate the sanctity of their marriages have always been there and always will be.  It’s always gonna depend on their individual devotion to their families and willingness to do the right thing.

In all my fretting about the world at large, I guess I’m never too old to be reminded that my parents were right: acting with integrity, being responsible, being kind, respecting my relationships and being my own personal version of “courageous” and “grateful” will, in the end, always be everything that they’re cracked-up to be.

Thank you, God for the reminder.

Of Expectations

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

As surely was the case for millions worldwide, I experienced a myriad of emotions as I watched the television broadcast of this week’s Inaugural Ceremonies.

Many of the musical presentations were Cheesecake Factory delicious to my ears. What a glorious day for chordal choices – from the blissful yearnings of James Taylor’s humble rendition of “America The Beautiful” to the genius musical arrangement of “Battle Hymn Of The Republic” sung by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir – a miraculous ensemble which incorporates only a few professional singers, instead choosing to raise-up former crack-addicts, homeless people and even a few lawyers.

If you missed that performance, stop reading this column NOW – I mean it. Navigate to Youtube and put in “Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir sings Battle Hymn Of The Republic”. Scroll down to the video posted by TPMTV or by Culturemix 1- they seem to have the best audio mixes. Then turn off the television, quiet the dog and listen to how a woman named Carol Cymbala and a man named Jason Michael Webb were guided to compose the musical arrangement of their lives.

I’ll wait.

If I’ve ever questioned the power of music, the potential of humanity living together in harmony, or how lucky I am to live in this great country, there’s my answer.

Along with the euphoria, I felt an immense sense of pride and gratitude. And along the way, the thought of “expectations” came to mind.

Watching this potpourri of our fellow citizens determinedly engaging firsthand in this momentous event, I began to wonder what expectations I should have of myself over the coming year. At this point in my life, what can I realistically expect from myself? Will I be more a participant or spectator? Will I embrace life more than ever or retreat to the sidelines? What should I expect of my willingness, my beliefs, my character?

Obviously I expect to be honest: life’s too short for lying and denying. Every time I’m less than truthful to myself or anyone else, it never turns out well.

I should expect myself to be fair. Whenever I’m treated unfairly, more often than not I react with resentment or self-pity. Knowing how debilitating those feelings are, how can I purposefully infuse them on anyone else?

Even though it seems obvious, I should remind myself to be kind. No one likes being inappropriately diminished or purposefully unacknowledged. That it takes no more effort to be acknowledging rather than dismissive is undeniable, and I always feel better afterward.

I should expect myself be focused, pragmatic and avoid envy. Someone once said that ideas, courage and determination are the stuff that dreams are made of. Focus and reality can be another matter, but for this year, I expect myself to be clear about setting my goals and staying focused – and no matter ever my age, to keep reaching for my dreams.

I should expect myself to be wise yet teachable, trusting and loving, and to be accepting, willing to be of service and kind to my mind and body.

Most of all I should expect myself to ultimately arrive at gratitude for each and every blessing in my precious, precious life.

I think these expectations are part of what the Ages are trying to teach me, sealed by an assurance that Almighty God really does love and adore all of us, and wants only to guide us to live our most fulfilled, meaningful lives.

Thank you Mrs. Cymbala and Mr. Webb for touching my artistic soul. I expect myself to do the best I can to return the favor.


A Question Of Acceptance

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

I’ve never much liked the word “acceptance” – not the general umbrella of evaluating others’ philosophies of course – but rather in terms of daily life choices. It always conjured-up feelings of compromise or resignation or defeat.

“The runner accepted that he couldn’t go any further in the race…. the dancer accepted that she’d never become a prima ballerina…. the patient accepted the finality of the doctor’s diagnosis”.

Why shouldn’t a sprinter resolve to get up earlier, exercise more and train harder so that next time maybe he will win that 10K?

If she really wants it badly enough, why shouldn’t a dancer devote years at the barre and fight for a role in “Swan Lake”?

And isn’t it good common sense to get a second and a third opinion in light of a serious diagnosis? We’re constantly reminded that, despite their years of training, doctors aren’t gods. How many times do we hear stories of patients overcoming the odds and living for decades beyond their physician’s estimations?

Who doesn’t like a story of courage and determination?  At last count, that video of a dowdy-yet-destined-for-success Susan Boyle singing “I Dreamed A Dream” has logged over ninety-five million views.  And along with ten megapixel pictures of our friends’ latest sushi plates and trips to Aruba, aren’t our Facebook pages and emails also peppered with daily recitations of inspiration and encouragement to buck the odds?

But lately I’ve become aware of another concept of acceptance.

A book to which many of my friends subscribe suggests that, in an alternate form of thinking, acceptance may be a good thing. It goes so far as to say that it actually may be an answer to a lot of my problems.

It suggests that whenever I’m agitated, it’s probably because I find some person, place, thing or situation – some fact of life – to be unacceptable. Furthermore, it says that I’ll probably find little peace in my heart and mind until I accept them as being exactly the way they’re supposed to be at the moment. It further suggests that nothing happens by mistake in God’s world, and that the very key to my happiness may lie in accepting life on life’s terms – concentrating not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and my attitudes.

At first glance, it’s confusing, but the last part helps make it clear. Acceptance doesn’t necessarily mean I have to be defeated. It doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t work for my dreams and goals or have courage in my convictions. But it does mean that I don’t serve myself well when I spend my time worrying about, obsessing over and resenting other people’s lives.

A runner who obsesses over the other guy who’s faster, rather than working on improving his own skills, risks defeating only himself.  A dancer who drowns in envy at the success of another performer, rather than working to be the best she can be on her own, lessens her chances to fulfill her dreams. A patient with a difficult diagnosis who succumbs to self-pity and resentment risks blinding himself to the everyday miracles which make each moment of all of our lives so precious.

I recently read that a basic tenet of living a good life is continually seeking a balance of our priorities. It seems clear that another key to living my best life may also include finding a balance of acceptance.


Being Enough

Friday, August 5th, 2011

During the era in which I graduated, Fairfax High School was known as “the Jewish high school”.

Located at the corner of Fairfax and Melrose in the Borscht Belt section of L.A., the school was nestled in a pre-Hip Melrose Avenue pocket of small Orthodox synagogues, assorted bookstores, Cantor’s Restaurant and a nifty record shop called Norty’s.

Recently I attended a small get-together noting the forty-fifth anniversary of my class’ graduation. Honestly, I really hadn’t much wanted to go, but as she so often does these days, my fiance’ gently pushed me in the right direction.

Upon arrival, I decided that as long as I was there, I may as well try to learn something from the experience. I decided to be more of a listener than a talker and try to get a handle on how some of my fellow classmates have really turned out.

For the most part, it was an easy tactic: given the opportunity, most folks jump at the chance to talk uninterrupted about themselves. To be fair, they also wanted to know about me, but it still wasn’t hard to keep the ball mostly in their court.

Fairfax had always been known as a breeding ground for academic achievers, and this sampling has lived-up to expectations. One gentleman is a longtime administrator at UCLA., and another at MIT. A third has his own consulting firm up North and a fourth is a renown Doctor and legislator who’s on the verge of completing his second book.

I heard stories of estimable achievements, exotic travels, impending retirement plans, and saw pictures of beautiful grown children and grandchildren fostered by tri-decade marriages.

Truth to be told, I had an enjoyable time. These are all good people living good lives. Surprisingly, my overwhelming emotion was… pride. Rightfully or not, I felt proud for them. They are fine people who contribute to the American fabric and stay the path.

When last I went to one of these events, about ten years ago, my reaction was a different one. Hearing of the others’ more mainstream experiences and successes, I remember coming away with an embarrassing sense of envy and resentment. “Why had their lives seemingly gone so much smoother than mine? How come their material possessions so dwarfed mine? Jeez, I feel like such a failure next to some of them…”

But not this time.

Though nothing’s really changed on our varied life’s paths, I began to notice a new pattern developing in the conversations. After achievements were outlined and Smart Phone pictures replaced in pockets, the topic seemed to inevitably turn to spirituality. And it’s no surprise, is it? As we get older, it’s natural to think more about our own mortality and a Bigger Picture.

Knowing that I’m co-founder and Music Director of a synagogue congregation, some of the guys seemed comfortable wanting to share their  spiritual status with me. One told of embracing a philosophy which combines aspects of Buddhism and Judaism. Another has regular meetings at his house specifically to discuss Matters Spiritual. A third hasn’t had much of a religious affiliation, but revealed that lately he’s been feeling a strong pull to get back to his roots.

And as they spoke, I was reminded of our real common bond: God.

I must confess that I talked a lot about the members of my congregation. I didn’t quite brag about them… well, I guess the truth is that I really did.

I talked about this miraculous congregation of which I’m so blessed to be a part. I talked about five hundred people at every Sabbath service and fifteen hundred at High Holy Day services. I marveled at the membership’s continued willingness to let me do my art at their services, and what a holy extended family we all are.

I shared about the miracles and recovery I’ve seen in our community nurtured by our synagogue, and how we continue to grow by impressive numbers. And in each case, I saw a look of nodding recognition in my friends’ eyes. Whether they actually did or not, I’d like to think they kinda “got” who I am.

I walked away from the get-together with a serene sense of pride and gratitude for what my life has become. And yet again I was reminded that conjuring-up feelings of being less than someone else is usually just a misguided, self-defeating waste of time.

We’re all Children of Almighty God, possessing of daily opportunities to grow, improve and lead meaningful lives. As long as we continually dedicate ourselves to those goals, I believe that in God’s eyes, I’m enough – you’re enough – we’re all good enough.

Apparently Fairfax High still had something to teach me.

Thank You, God.



Just For Today: Service

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

One of my favorite meditations, titled “Just For Today”, suggests that each day of my life I should find a way to do someone a good turn. It warns however, that if anyone finds out about the effort, it won’t count.

I’ve decided that this one time I’m gonna violate the code. I’m doing it because I’m convinced that I’ll fail the assignment if I don’t share the lesson.

My friend Suzanne is a woman who I’d guess is in her mid-thirties. She’s a pretty blonde, and makes an impact when she walks in a room. She’s bright, articulate and inspires everyone she meets.

She’s also blind.

Recently Suzanne called and told me of a dilemma. Like me, she’s a participant in the Recovery community. Her problem at hand was a lack of brail or audio versions of many of the readings in our particular program. As is her way, she wanted to do something about it, and wondered if I’d be willing to record myself reading some of the materials.

I’ve long harbored an intention of doing some reading for sight-impaired people, but never got around to it. So when she made the request, I jumped at it.

A week later, eleven CD’s – ten hours of recorded literature now exist. Suzanne intends to use them to reach out to people in the sight-impaired community who suffer from similar self-destructive compulsions. Others will be helped, and I got a chance to be a part of it.

I tell you this because, for about a year, I’ve been in recovery doldrums. I’ve found myself overcome by my Obsession of Choice, not finding strength to get back on my particular wagon. I’ve had spurts of clarity, but more often than not the insidious disease has been wrapping itself around me and constricting my life. I’ve prayed repeatedly for willingness to take the actions I need to take, but relief has been long in coming.

Apparently God decided I was finally ready.

The process of recording involved total immersion in the materials. For seven days and nights I was reading all the questions, reciting all the prayers and absorbing all the wisdom the program has to offer. Despite having been a participant for over sixteen years, I read things I’ve never read before, and learned things I’ve never known.

For my willingness, my God drilled into my head a thousand reminders of how much He loves me, and that I need never be alone with my addiction again. He told me in the most clear-cut Holy Voice – over and over – that there indeed is a solution to my troubles.

I feel so much better. For today, the compulsion has been lifted, and I’m convinced that every day I show up for others, I stand a far better chance of showing up for myself.

It’s really true: service absolutely is its own reward.

“Just for today, I will be unafraid. Especially I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful, and to believe that as I give to the world, so the world will give to me.”

Thank you, Suzanne.

Thank you, God.

Persistence With A “P”

Thursday, October 21st, 2010


Three syllables linked together: so easy to say, yet so hard to own.

I’ve been wondering lately about persistence. What is it in a human being which says, “I know it’d be easier to give up, and I keep thinking I should… but I just can’t – I won’t.”

An on hand dictionary says that to persist is “to continue unwavering or resolute or firmly in some purpose or course of action.”

Unwavering… resolute… purpose…. I like those words. I like the idea of their being part of what defines us.

Yes, “unwavering” has connotations of being stubborn, but in this context it implies focus and refusal to be distracted. Sounds good to me: I admire people who have the wherewithal to abstain from three hundred cable channels of inanity and compulsive crossbreeding with their PDA of choice.

“Resolute” sounds like Thomas Jefferson – the good parts. Words like “bold” and “courageous and “intrepid” come to mind. Jeez, wouldn’t you just love for someone to call you “intrepid”?

“The intrepid composer persevered boldly and courageously through the Broadway establishment and found a producer for his new Musical.”  Yeah baby, that’s what I’m talkin’ about!

And last but not least: “purpose”. What’s a life without dreams and goals and destinations? Isn’t your day so much more delicious when you’re on a mission?

And we don’t always have to be persistent on a grand scale, do we? A lawmaker in pursuit of passing an equal rights amendment is really no more relentless than a student studying day and night for her S.A.T., or a teacher who refuses to give up on a difficult child.

Personally, I’m finding persistence to be an elusive suitor. In the last week I’ve experienced moments when heady terms like “brilliant” and “masterpiece” were being heaved at me – yet seconds later when I was still feeling like another nose pressed against the glass.

But though I’ve often felt like saying I’ve had enough, after a few hours of licking my wounds I’ve found myself continuing to try, fueled by recognition that I won’t be able to live with myself if I don’t.

And isn’t that the essence of it for all of us? As usual, it’s about choices. We choose to live either with sorrowful regrets or in the satisfaction of knowing that there were chapters in our personal stories when, despite the odds, we were resolute and focused and determined.

But here’s the kicker: we don’t have to do it alone. We don’t have to take the world on our shoulders in the pursuit of our goals. It’s not our job – it’s God’s.

Oh yeah… “God”. I almost forgot.

Now I remember: we’ve got a God who loves us. We’ve got a God for whom our little goals are less than a snap of His holy fingers. We’ve got a God who has a plan for us – and we’ve got a God with whom all things are possible.

Come to think of it, He’s the One who gave us the gift of persistence.

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling better now. I’ve got a renewed sense of unwavering, resolute purpose. Of course I have to continue being persistent, because my God’s walking alongside me – and He’s got my back.

I think I’m actually feeling a little bit intrepid.

How about you?

Clarity At Its Own Pace

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

With all their majesty, for me this year’s High Holy Day services of my religion-of-choice had a flavor all their own.

For those who may not be familiar, reform Jewish High Holy Day services are divided in five: an evening and morning service celebrating the Jewish New Year, and a week or so later an evening and two separate daytime services experiencing the Day of Atonement – the most solemn day on the Jewish calendar.

After a lovely first evening’s services, my arrival at the sanctuary the next morning was greeted by an excited friend with magazine in hand. “Congratulations, congratulations! Have you seen it yet?”  I asked what she was talking about, and she said, “the article about you in this week’s Los Angeles Jewish Journal! Here, I’ve brought a copy for you!”

And there it was: a column by Journal editor Rob Eshman titled “You Don’t Know Jack.”

I decided to hold off looking at it until after the service concluded, and excited anticipation became an ingredient of my morning’s experience. Immediately afterward, at the first quiet moment I sat down to read.

My first reactions were gratitude and admiration. How kind of Rob to give me such a generous, sensitive spotlight. And as I read, I was taken both with his usual exceptional writing abilities and his display of integrity and insight.

A beautiful present and notable way to start the Jewish New Year.

But as I read, I also began feeling some regret that much of the column detailed my past, and what happened fifteen years ago. I know – it’s a major part of my life’s story, but still….

And immediately I began dreading the following week’s Day Of Atonement services – ironically fifteen years to the day since my children were taken – and the miserable prospect of being viewed as a victim all over again.

It’s not that I’m in denial about my past – how could I be? But early on I made a choice that I’d fight the impulse to let it define me as an object of tragedy, and I’ve worked hard for a long time to minimize that perception.

I’d like to think that my life, my music and my writing today have become about praise of God, love, creativity and service to others… and profound gratitude for every blessed moment.  I’ve become convinced that, like it or not, our worst challenges afford us extraordinary opportunities to better the world. I believe that every day God provides us with circumstances and scenarios in which we can be of help to others, but our eyes and hearts must be open to recognize them.

When others hear of my story and my music today, rather than sadness, I’d far rather they come away with hope, inspiration and a bit more certainty that they can survive any of their life’s trials – as long as they remain in alignment with the God who so clearly loves and cherishes them.

Ironically, the cover story of the following week’s Journal – with the word “Hope” emblazoned across the front in big letters – talks about the message I’d like to think that I stand for and share with others.

But as a dear friend says to me when I’ve manufactured turmoil in my life, “Pal, you’re right on schedule. There’s no accidents in God’s world.”

And he’s right again. It all turned out the way it was supposed to. Yom Kippur had its emotionally bumpy moments, and some people came up to me with that familiar look of pity in their eyes.  But even more said that, despite the fact they were so sorry I had undergone such trauma, they came away inspired.

And again I got to play music and conduct my choir – once more having been granted the privilege of utilizing my art to be of service to God.

And yet again, I was so grateful.

For those who didn’t know me before, after reading the article I’m not sure whether or not they still don’t know Jack – at least this year’s edition.

What a great new challenge I have for this New Year: to find other avenues to let them know.

As stated: a beautiful and notable new beginning.

Thank You God for the gift of  clarity – even if it comes at its own pace.

The Gift Of Desperation

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

Having been around the Recovery Community for a number of years, I’ve heard an assortment of venerable, insightful slogans. No doubt you’ve heard some of the more familiar ones: “One Day At A Time”, “Just For Today”, “Easy Does It”, etc.

However, this morning I heard a new nugget of insight, and it resonated with digital clarity. It came from someone I hadn’t previously met – a seemingly articulate, accomplished, successful individual.

Her statement was, “I’m grateful for the gift of desperation”.

Yes, I know: we’ve all heard the essence of that thought before. But nevertheless, there’s something about hearing the words “desperate” and “gift” in the same sentence that whisper a unique sense of truth to me.

“Desperation” usually means we think we’ve hit bottom. Our luck appears expired and “hope” is for somebody else. Fear’s about to overtake us and we’re on the brink of panic. Some might describe the feeling as being incomprehensibly demoralized.

But aren’t those the moments when we’re willing to try anything? Aren’t those the times when we’re most prone to recognize that we can’t live our lives run on Self Will alone? Aren’t those the junctures at which we’re most willing to finally turn to the God who loves us?

And as a result, those might actually be the holy moments when our lives really begin to change. Previously undreamed-of options start to appear. Obstacles we thought insurmountable are slowly, systematically conquered. Agonizing, self-sabotaging impulses over which we felt utterly powerless – gradually, miraculously become surmountable on a daily basis, with God as our Director.

Desperation’s no fun – no one asks for it. But I feel a sense of comfort and encouragement hearing that there are those who’ve concluded that some of their worst moments turned out to have been God’s most profound gifts.

Holding On To Cinemascope Dreams

Monday, April 26th, 2010

I remember years ago listening to one of radio’s first on-air psychologists, a lady named Doctor Toni Grant.

Toni was perfect for the gig. Possessing of smooth, dulcet tones and a reassuring, level-headed manner, she espoused traditional family values long before political fear-mongers expropriated them as weapons of mass manipulation. She never screamed, shrieked or deliberately belittled anyone. She was the gold standard by which today’s media shrinks should be measuring themselves, though regrettably few do.

It was on Dr. Grant’s shows that I first heard the two sagely phrases, “life is not a dress rehearsal” and “life isn’t always fair”.

In retrospect, they both appear hackneyed absolutes of today’s self-help culture in which everyone’s got an answer for everyone else’s problems.

But they’re still big pills to swallow – especially side by side.

On one hand we’re warned that we’d better live in the here-and-now, because today is yesterday’s tomorrow. If there’s places to go and people to see, the time to act is now. If our hearts are of cinemascope dreams, we’d best set about making them come true, because who knows what tomorrow may bring?

And it’s good advice which goes hand in hand with Rabbi Hillel’s famous words, “…and if not now, when?” We procrastinate at our own peril, because rehearsal time’s long since expired.

But then there’s the other guy.

That sneaky little scamp who warns us that we dare not let our expectations get out of hand; that “real world” warning which suggests we ought not dream too wide; that harbinger of defeat which screams that some people are destined to succeed – while it’s just not in the cards for others; that nexus of negativity which whispers that, despite our most herculean efforts, we’re destined to live lives of quiet frustration because, after all… life isn’t always fair.

So how do we reconcile all that when we’re at moments in our lives when we’re overrun with disappointment and disillusionment?

Don’t look to me for an answer because right now I haven’t got one. Huge issues in my life aren’t yet going the way I’d hoped, despite my certainty that I’ve tried my best and worked my hardest. On top of that, a spiritual philosophy to which I subscribe warns me not to have excessive expectations, and suggests I act as if I’m in acceptance, whether I really am or not.

But I’m not there yet. I’m not willing to accept that this is the way it’s gonna be, and that I shouldn’t expect the panorama of my life to expand beyond my wildest dreams if I continue to work for it.

I’m not gonna give up. I’m just not.

But between you and me, what I am gonna do is continue to pray. I am going to continue to turn my dreams over to my God, even if He’s not acting as the waiter I’d selfishly like Him to be and serving up orders on my timetable.

I’ve been at this life too long to believe He’s not listening. I’ve got no other choice than to continue working hard and trying to be the best man I can for the people in my life who love me. Damn the “life isn’t always fair” adage right now. More importantly, I’m not rehearsing for my life – I’m living it.

And I’m choosing to believe that God hasn’t carried me this far to drop me now.

Thanks Doctor Grant. You were a big help.

Why the Serenity Prayer?

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

(from my other site

There are prayers for virtually every circumstance in life. We pray for trivial do-overs and crucial hope against the odds. We ask God for mundane favors and extraordinary miracles. 

With thousands of prayers written and available, why in moments of challenge do so many choose to utter the words of the Serenity Prayer? To find an answer, let’s examine some other regularly offered reverent prayers.

The Lord’s Prayer solemnly asks forgiveness and guidance: "… forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…"

The Prayer of St. Francis eloquently asks that we be of service to others: "Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace; where there is hatred, I may bring love; where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness…"

The Prayer of Jabez asks for personal gain and protection: "Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory… that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain… "

The Serenity Prayer, in its most familiar twenty-five word abbreviated text, humbly asks for clarity, willingness, acceptance, courage and wisdom.

In moments of strife, what better asset than our own most clear judgment? The Serenity Prayer petitions God to grant us peace of mind and heart ("God grant me the serenity…") in order that we see through the clutter of fears, doubts and resentments which so often cloud our perception of our circumstances.

The prayer asks that we be gifted with willingness to accept what is at hand ("…to accept the things I cannot change.."). It asks that we give up the fights which cannot or should not be won, the circumstances which cannot or should not be altered. It reminds us that, despite our most fervent desires and best of intentions, we are not God. We are mere mortals – albeit Divinely Created Children Of God – but still mortals just the same. We endeavor not to place ourselves in a position to control other people, places or things.

The Serenity Prayer nevertheless beseeches God for courage to overcome our innermost fears and, when appropriate, to take action ("…courage to change the things I can…"). 

Fear of ridicule can block us from speaking our minds. Fear of rejection holds us back from expressing love and admiration for others. Fear of injury bars us from adventure and exploration. Fear of failure sabotages our willingness to follow our dreams.

Through the Serenity Prayer we ask God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves – to silence the pervasive fears which undermine the quality of our lives. We ask for courage to conquer those personal hurdles we previously thought insurmountable. We ask for fortitude to right the wrongs which will help make our world a better place.

And finally, the Serenity Prayer asks of God that we may be wise at those times when we are least prone to be so ("… and the wisdom to know the difference.").

At times of emotional disturbance or indecision, the right course of action is often blurred. As we quietly say the Serenity Prayer, we pray for wisdom to discern between that which will be of most service to God and our fellows, and those ill-advised actions which will, in the long run, ultimately bring regret and misery to ourselves and others. 

And at the conclusion of the Serenity Prayer, many of us reaffirm to God our humble, grateful reliance upon Him by saying the words, "Thy Will, not mine, be done."

                                                                                        – Jack Bielan

P.S. If you get a chance, please visit my other site, which features my song, "Serenity (Serenity Prayer Song)" at