“God, grant me the serenity to accept
the things I cannot change…”
Welcome to part one of this three part series on the Serenity Prayer. The Serenity Prayer was written in a little stone cottage in Heath, Massachusetts by theologian and professor, Reinhold Niebuhr, around 1932. It became widely known when it was printed on cards and distributed to the troops during World War II. It became even more widely known when an early member of Alcoholics Anonymous saw it in a New York newspaper obituary and many AA groups began to use it. It remains an extremely popular prayer.
With all that’s going on in the world today, I could use some serenity. How about you? Where do you find serenity? I find it by walking the beach and watching the tide coming in and going out. Part of what I like about the tide is that I am utterly in awe of and powerless over it. No matter what I think, feel, or do; and whether I am present or not ~ the tide comes in, and the tide goes out. I accept that.
But how many times do we suffer needlessly because we lack the willingness to accept the things we cannot change? Like trees refusing to bend with the wind, we snap. Like a tide rising despite our refusal to accept the change that life brings ~ we lose the ability to experience the serenity that acceptance often brings. But how do we gain acceptance of things we cannot change?.
We can realize the blessings of the Serenity Prayer by accepting (not denying) our present circumstances as they are; by accepting ourselves as we are (not as we wish we were); and by accepting others as they are (not as we think they should be). It is in accepting our weaknesses; our unrealistic expectations; and our unreasonable demands that new strengths are discovered and developed. Acceptance of people, places and things that we cannot force to conform to our desires may feel like defeat; but acceptance eventually becomes the foundation upon which sustainable change can be built.
Notice that the first third of this prayer does not say that “I will grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” It says, “God grant me…” The Serenity Prayer is a prayer, not a self-help mantra. It is a petition to God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. In accepting what we cannot do; we create an opening where God can gain access to our soul and do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.