The serenity prayer used in many recovery circles usually uses the first two verses: (see full prayer at end)
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.
Sounds simple enough, right? If only. First, trying to decipher what can be changed and what cannot be changed. This is a significant task in and of itself. How do we know what we have the power to control? Let’s consider this for a moment. The adage is “you only have control over yourself”. Taking this into consideration with the serenity prayer, I must have the courage to change myself and my perceptions, as I cannot control what other people say or do. It is unsettling to consider that my world is simply a makeup of my perceptions, my interpretations, feelings and responses, for which only I can hold myself accountable. Another cannot “make” me feel something, that would be giving them control and power over me and my behaviors, which I often refuse to accept. I strive to have courage to look into myself and acknowledge what I need to change in order to manage the situation. I feel this is important in personal growth for life in general.
How do we change perceptions? Perceptions are reflected through our actions and words as
our reality. We have to be open to looking at other angles, or viewpoints, perhaps studying the
perceptions of others, contrasting them with that of our own. We may find that our perceptions are not reality and give us a basis for which to practice that change we so desperately try to achieve.
Ok, so let’s look at that other part, the part about accepting the things I cannot change. I can’t
change another person. I can’t change their behavior, their thoughts, or their emotional responses to me. So how do I accept them for who and how they are? Often times people relate acceptance with approval, as if ‘because I accept it I must agree that it was right’. I strive to remember that to accept means to acknowledge that it is out of my control and that I will not allow it to have power over me or my emotions. To accept is not to approve, it is to let go and in some cases, go with it.
Sometimes there are things in life that are difficult to accept. But acceptance is so much less draining than fighting something I have no control over. I strive for acceptance of the things I cannot change.
I also have to try to remember that I don’t always need to be in control and that giving up control
over the details of life outside of me, things I can’t genuinely control, means to gain personal control over myself and my responses. That little bit, gives me more control even over the situations that arise. For example, if you are in a relationship that is frustrating and you respond every time to that person the same way, they have been gifted the control over your emotions, behaviors and reactions. But, if you decide that you will not respond in the same way, you will respond in a ‘seek to understand’ the situation better and not believe that what is going on is directed at you, you gain the control that you search for by responding as you want to respond. Gaining stability by practicing your values. You can then feel good about accepting the things you can’t change outside of yourself and taking ownership of what you can change within. This can give new motivation as well to make positive change, as we are motivated to change the things we believe we have control over. So, look in-ward, focus on ourselves instead of the outside circumstances that we have no control over.
Courage to change is the hardest thing to muster if we are focused elsewhere. So what about the wisdom to know the difference? How do we get that part? Life gives us wisdom. We learn through trial and error, often stating to ourselves “I wish I would have done...” Well of course you would have done it differently because your experiences allowed you to learn! You gained wisdom through the situations, the mistakes and the painful experiences. Think about this scenario: You go to school to learn how to achieve your dream. You read all the books, have access to all the theories and all the “wisdom” of the people before you. You graduate school feeling like you know exactly what to do in every possible situation. And then you go get experience, realizing through at least the first 5 years, all that reading was helpful but did not in fact prepare you completely for the reality of the world and people. You will make mistakes, you will have bad situations, and you will learn through the painful experiences. It is the reality of being human.
To sum it all up, I often repeat the serenity prayer to myself to remind myself that I control me, I can’t control others, and I will learn from every painful experience.
GOD, grant me the serenity
to accept the things
I cannot change,
Courage to change the
things I can, and the
wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardship as the
pathway to peace.
Taking, as He did, this
sinful world as it is,
not as I would have it.
Trusting that He will make
all things right if I
surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy
in this life, and supremely
happy with Him forever in
The Serenity PrayerThe full text of the original "Serenity Prayer"
written by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)
NOTE: This is the full prayer attributed to Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr reportedly written in 1926. Niebuhr was a Lutheran pastor and theologian. Usually his "Serenity Prayer" is quoted using the first 2 verses only