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Serenity Now!

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Jun. 21, 2012

Written by: Father Jim Chern
Montclair State University

SERENITY NOW !!!- Anyone who’s a Seinfeld fan, probably recognizes that phrase from a classic episode of the legendary TV sit-com. Jerry Seinfeld’s friend George Costanza is in the car with his parents, Frank and Estelle. And it’s a typical ride around town for them. They go from annoying one another, to bickering, to shouting. With one difference on this go round. Frank is in the middle of launching into a rant on Estelle when he cuts himself off and shouts “SERENITY NOW - SERENITY NOW” George is confused and asks him “Serenity now? What’s that?” And Frank answers “The Doctor gave me a relaxation cassette. When my blood pressure gets too high, the man on the tape tells me to say, ‘Serenity now!’ George asks him “Are you supposed to yell it?” To which Mr Costanza replies - “The man on the tape wasn’t specific.”

Before you know it, other characters join in. And throughout the episode you see as much as they try to use the phrase… as much as they want “serenity now” as the various things of life continue to annoy them - from a screen door blowing off the front porch, to being unable to open a bag of Potato Chips, none of them seems to be experiencing any peace.  They find that it doesn’t magically make things better simply saying (or screaming) that phrase. Towards the end of the episode, George and a nemesis from High School named Lloyd Braun, discuss the self-help relaxation tapes. Lloyd says to George: You know, you should tell your dad that ‘serenity now’ thing doesn’t work. It just bottles up the anger, and eventually, you blow. George suddenly defensive to his father and the tapes says: What do you know? You were in the nut house. Lloyd responds : What do you think put me there? George says I heard they found a family in your freezer. To which Lloyd issues the quote of the episode: Serenity now. Insanity later.

The whole episode is based on a real-life experience of one of the writers who’s father tried that relaxation technique (to similar, unsuccessful results) As much as some of these techniques, methods, self-help programs can be somewhat useful… they can help some people calm down or change their attitude… The fact that there’s still an ever-growing industry trying to help people find peace, find resolution, find serenity, would seem to point to the fact that there’s yet to be a quick answer, or an easy fix- solution.

Because when we’re faced with stresses, trials, struggles in life - just shouting “SERENITY NOW” isn’t going to magically erase those problems away. You find out someone’s dropping from your support team… Your assignment to a campus wasn’t what you were expecting… Your loved one is sick… A friend betrays you…or has been saying just plain untrue stuff about you… Your family life is just a mess - shouting SERENITY NOW might be a release for a second, but doesn’t really change anything about those realities you’re dealing with.

In the Gospel, we hear of similar terrible things that people face and Jesus’ solutions to them. People being hit in the face… getting robbed… enemies persecuting others. And upon first listen, the advice Jesus gives seems about as useful as “that man on Frank Costanza’s tape.” Turn the other cheek… don’t offer any resistance , give your cloak as well… love those who hate and persecute you. It all seems insulting to our sensibilities. At the very minimum we demand justice. If someone comes in and steals your ipad… Someone decides they just don’t like you and they come up and punch you in the stomach - we’re suppose to stop, go give them our Television set, offer our face to get punched and smile thinking we’re being faithful to Jesus?

Jesus is pretty single minded in his focus. You see, he’s not so interested in the fact that we as humans can become attached to things that can be broken as easily as stolen (and replaced).  He’s not interested in us getting in the last word (and being proven right - or at least putting whoever opposes us in their place)   He knows that as His Father’s most prized possession - you and I are God’s most prized, precious creation – how bruised and wounded we are through the evil done by others and that our anger, our thirst not just for justice but retribution can easily turn a loving heart into something quite different. That’s what it means when it is said that - Jesus has come to save us - he’s come to save us from Sin and Death… He’s come to save us from the evil that is done to us. He’s come to save us from the evil that we can become as well.

Because the reality is that potential is all too real for each and everyone of us. The hurts and pains we’ve endured at the hands of others… The anger over the lack of justice whether it’s on some global scale or things happening right in our own lives that could all be legitimate things to be angry about - all of that can change us. And by giving into those feelings, feeding and nursing those hurts - we can easily become what we hate… we allow the thing that has hurt us and inflicted pain on us to be the thing we go to as a source of justice.

    (The Devil is really sick in his manipulation of things, isn’t he?)

Jesus isn’t simply spouting off trite sayings for us to follow when we are faced with trials and struggles. He’s giving us a preview of how He himself will deal with it. How he will endure beatings, how his clothes will be stripped of him and gambled away, how as he lay dying on the cross he will pray “Father forgive them…” The reality was, Jesus showed that there was nothing, nothing that the darkest, evilest of hearts could perpetrate on him that he would not endure - that those things would not conquer his Sacred Loving Heart. Knowing that by withholding even the slightest of remarks, resisting staging the meekest of defenses in an arena of such cruelty and injustice would thousands and thousands of years later still convict the hearts of us, his followers. We still marvel at that strength displayed in such seeming weakness. We are at a loss to comprehend the most bloodless response ever mounted to such an attack. We cannot deny how it unveiled the greatest victory that has ever taken place in human history in Jesus rising from the dead, destroying death forever.

That doesn’t mean we’re to be punching bags to the abuse of others. Allowing an abusive husband to continue unabated as we “turn the other cheek” - pointing out to a robber ransacking our homes “don’t forget the laptop in my office” all of that would simply enable our brothers and sisters who are doing these terrible things to continue unchecked, unapologetic - and further endangering their souls. Protecting ourselves, our loved ones - and loving the other to call light to the ways of darkness they’ve embraced isn’t violating what Jesus is saying here. At the core though, Jesus is sensitive to the fact that our longing for “justice” can easily blind us into rage and anger which makes these bad situations worse.

Jesus knows all too well how hard this is for us as human beings to consider. Which is why this is only possible if we’re in right relationship with Him. If we know, feel, experience that loving embrace of Christ then we can recognize how he is the only thing that ultimately matters. We don’t have room in our hearts for anger when we’ve allowed Jesus to abide there. With that intimacy, we will authentically and sincerely find true peace, lasting joy and yes - even Serenity Now.