Hanging on a wall in my office, is a glass picture etched with the first four lines of Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer. At the end of each group session, my clients and I hold hands and recite the prayer together. As they leave, I pray that serenity, courage, and wisdom inform their decisions as they tend to their daily lives.
On Saturday, May 18, 2013, Loyola University Maryland held its 161st commencement ceremony. Among its graduates were members of the Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Care Department. As they transition from the role of student to that of helping professional, I pray that serenity, courage, and wisdom inform their decisions as they tend to their clients.
The Pastoral Counseling program offers skills that graduates bring to the workforce. When they enter the world of work, they may realize that even with excellent skills, difficulties arise. Sometimes the difficulties are due to agency culture, or clients may not be motivated to change. During those occasions, we ask God to grant them the serenity to accept the things they cannot change.
For what can be changed, extra effort may be necessary. Pastoral Counselors are called to be advocates for clients. We hold hope and provide reassurance that there is light at the end of the tunnel. As clients respond to treatment, their accomplishments may radiate into our lives. Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda stated that “when one takes action for others, one’s own suffering is transformed into the energy that can keep one moving forward; a light of hope illuminating a new tomorrow for oneself and others is kindled.” Recognizing the value of advocacy, we pray that God grant them the courage to change the things that they can.
The third attribute recalls Solomon’s response to God’s magnanimous offer to give him anything that he wanted. Solomon replied “give your servant an understanding mind to govern your people that I may discern between good and evil” (1 Kings 3:9). In essence, Solomon requested wisdom, and God, delighting in his selfless request, made him the wisest man who ever lived.
Socrates stated that “wisdom begins in wonder.” As Pastoral Counselors enter the workforce filled with hope, wonder, and a burning desire for excellence, my prayer is for a spirit of discernment to accompany them so they recognize the times when change is not possible, and be at peace. For those times when they can facilitate change, they should have the courage to advocate for their clients. Yet most importantly, they should trust God for the wisdom to know the difference.
Our work as Pastoral Counselors requires us to facilitate change, advocate for our clients, and be discerning about their needs. The class of 2013 is equipped for these tasks, and I am convinced that the counseling profession has received a gift with the addition of these new graduates to their rolls.