God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. *
A simple prayer – a prayer that has been spoken by thousands of people . . .
- an alcoholic seeking the strength to resist the urge to drink
- a couple who doesn’t know how they can make their marriage work
- an addict who tries to decide between buying food for their family and drugs for their cravings
- a mom who is fighting the urge to “fix” the problem, enabling her loved one yet again
- me in the midst of the everyday
It’s a prayer said hundreds of times at Celebrate Recovery, Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholic Anonymous, Al-Anon and other 12-step meetings.
It’s a prayer of acceptance, peace, courage and wisdom.
I remember seeing this prayer stitched on a needlepoint in my grandmother Louise’s house. I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know if she stitched it or if it was a gift. I don’t know what it meant to her. I didn’t know what it meant to me when I was child.
It’s a prayer that I see carved on this cross every time I sit at my desk to work, write, read or pray.
I pray this prayer regularly – sometimes in haste, sometimes in moments of indecision and sometimes in the throes of resentment.
What does it mean to pray: “serenity to accept the things I cannot change”? It’s a prayer for peace, knowing that I can do nothing to change the situation that is before me. It’s not my situation to change. I can’t make anyone “feel” differently. A person’s emotions belong to that person. As much as I want someone to be _________ (fill in the emotion), I cannot make anyone feel any particular way. I have no control over that.
What does it mean to pray: “courage to change the things I can”? It’s a prayer to stop saying “I can’t do anything about that!” It’s a prayer to stop making excuses . . . a prayer to quit letting anger fester into resentment. Just this morning I read this powerful line from Henri Nouwen: “When we swallow our angry feelings and do not make them known, resentment settles in.” ** When we don’t try to change something that we DO have control over, it bottles up, sinks deep into the pit of our hearts and at some point comes pouring out, usually in a way that is certainly not peaceful or serene.
What does it mean to pray: “the wisdom to know the difference”? For me, here’s the real point of contention – the crux of the prayer. How do I know if I should accept or if I should seek to change? Is this really my problem? Is this my responsibility? What’s MY part in the situation before me?
To understand the difference, I need a moment to think, really think – to pray, really pray – for clarity. Sometimes that clarity comes easily. Sometimes that clarity is harder to see. Sometimes I need someone to help – a friend, a confidant, a sponsor, a coach or a spouse. Most often, it’s my husband, Noah. (Thank you to Noah and all of the people who’ve helped me figure it out.)
It is a simple prayer . . . a prayer drawing me to the Source of strength, courage, peace and hope . . . over and over again.
*The Serenity Prayer is most commonly attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971).
* * Nouwen, Henri. Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit. Harper One, Henri Nouwen Legacy Trust with Michael J. Christensen and Rebecca J. Laird, 2010, p. 59.