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The Serenity Prayer


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This morning during my quiet time, I found myself contemplating the Serenity Prayer. In case you are not familiar with it, here it is:

"God, grant me the

serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

courage to change the things I can, and

wisdom to know the difference."

I was struck by the simplicity and brevity of such an all-encompassing prayer. It is widely attributed to Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr, a theologian from Massachusetts, though its origins are still debated. It has been used as a closing prayer by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) since 1942.

I decided to study each of the words and discover their particular meaning for me. Perhaps I might glean more insight if I thoughtfully considered the words behind the words - for me. I would like to share this with you with the hastily added clarification that I am no philosopher. Here is how it broke down for me:

"God, grant me the                   "Something/Someone greater than myself, give me the

serenity                                       peacefulness, faith and knowing

to accept                                    to allow and not fight against

the things                                   the people and conditions

I cannot change,                        I am powerless over,

courage                                     the trust, resolve and strength

to change                                  to act and make different, - to transform

the things I can                         myself and the conditions I am able to make different,

and                                            and give me

wisdom                                     the transcending knowledge from experience

to know the difference."          to recognize what I can and cannot make different."


"God, grant me the

serenity, courage and wisdom


accept, change and know."

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The Serenity Prayer seems to presume at least three things:

1) the need to go outside of the self to receive help,

2) the willingness to receive and act on what is asked for, and perhaps most strikingly,

3) serenity is not the result of accepting what we cannot change; serenity is the prerequisite to accepting what we cannot change.

So much is made of the need to accept what Life has given us each day, in order to experience peace in life. I can certainly see the wisdom of that, the directional flow that acceptance leads to peace. And yet, the Serenity Prayer calls us to do the opposite, to receive serenity in order to then have acceptance. This is where the need to seek help from outside of us comes in. This is what turns an affirmation into a prayer, the humble invitation to a higher power. I don't know if or how prayers get "answered" or "not answered." My personal belief is that the power is in the act of the asking.

I can appreciate that I might need divine intervention in order to have enough serenity to then experience acceptance. And, it strikes me that serenity is not the same as peace. Serenity is a state of grace that is sometimes the eye of the tornado. It includes a kind of faith from an inner Knowing. In this way, it is much more than a peaceful feeling. 

So, it begins with serenity and through acceptance, courage, action, and wisdom, it then ends in serenity and so goes the circular cycle. I am sure I have much more to learn from this prayer, and more importantly, from living from this prayer.

I would love to hear what your experience is with the Serenity Prayer and what it means to you. Please consider leaving a comment below.


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Being raised as an American with Scottish heritage, it is difficult for me - this idea of something greater than myself to ask for help, because I was raised to believe that asking some greater being or others meant I was weak and could not resolve things on my own. But, I do believe in what this prayer means in terms of understanding that asking for help is a way to get through and understand difficulties, unpleasantness, uncertainty, etc... I am, unfortunately, still at a place where it does not make sense for me to ask "god" or others for assistance because of the history I have had with disappointment and reaching out and getting nothing in the way of "support." I do use this prayer when I attend meetings and leave out the word, "god." I have a routine of asking the universe for help and letting the universe know on a daily basis what I am grateful for. The place I have a hard time with is when really ugly things happen to me. I have a hard time with trust, belief, and so many other things. The end.

Kristin L. Roush, Ph.D.

Hi Edith,
Thanks for your perspective. I appreciate where you are coming from. It seems like this can be a common challenge for many people in twelve step programs. And I know this is an extremely difficult time for you and you might be feeling particularly forsaken and lonely. I am glad you are still going to meetings and letting other people reach out to you. You are a dear soul on the planet.

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