I first got sober with AA, but I struggled with the whole God thing. As I looked down the 12 steps I could see that only ½ of them were available to me; the others needed a “higher power”, and I spent a long time trying to figure out just what mine was because I needed it to make progress. I found it in the end, and quite what my perception of “higher power” is doesn’t matter here; it is personal, private, and nobody’s business except my own. It only needs to serve the purpose of being able to do what’s necessary to become well. But before I found a workable “God” concept I had meeting after meeting where the Serenity Prayer would be said (it’s how meetings are usually opened and closed where I’m from). The Serenity Prayer seemed to be really important, but it took me a long time to figure out what it was all about, which is silly for something that’s only 27 words long.
The Serenity prayer is very well known in the AA community, but you don’t need to go to AA to use it to help you, and you don’t need to be religious or have a “higher power” either. The prayer is presented here in a non-religious form since it is more common these days that a person trying to stop drinking does not have any workable concept of “God” or a “higher power”. Just switch the starting words to “May I find” instead of “God grant me” and the sentiment remains the same, but the necessity to have faith is removed… that’s how I got it to work for me.
Here goes… The Serenity Prayer (without God)
May I find (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.
The serenity prayer is not about asking “God” to take away all our problems; it doesn’t say that at all. What it does is it tells us how to help ourselves. It is a way of deciding “what do I do now?” when confronted by something challenging… anything challenging. It is a way of finding the right thing to do next in any given situation, and thus it is a way of removing indecision and confusion and of managing our serenity.
The “prayer” has three separate instructions in it, each with its own verb. Looking at them we have…
“May I find the serenity to accept the things I cannot change”
This tells me that if I need to accept something then I must look at it calmly. I can’t accept things if I’m panicked or rushed, I need to look at them carefully, honestly and thoroughly. If this is something that is completely inevitable, or if it occurred on the past, or has just happened (i.e. it is only just in the past) then I can’t change it. Whether I like it or not is entirely immaterial; if it is inevitable or in the past then I must accept it or it will nag at me and bring me down. When I accept it then it becomes emotionally neutral and doesn’t hurt. But accepting things, things I wish were different, isn’t easy; it takes calm and thorough inspection of the issue to put it to rest. This is why I need to summon serenity.
“(May I find) the courage to change the things I can”
If something should be changed then I can stop it causing me grief by doing so… but I don’t like change, in fact I often fear change. Often it is tempting to let something wrong continue rather than to confront and change it. Change is challenging. That’s why I need to summon courage.
“(may I find) the wisdom to know the difference”
When faced with an issue I must either accept it, or change it; any other course of action leaves the issue un-resolved and it will nag at me. Doing nothing is a bad choice… the issue persists, but choosing the wrong option; accept or change, is just as bad. I can’t accept something that can still be changed… my mind simply won’t let me do this… while it can be changed it will remain outstanding as something to me done and will keep recurring. Similarly I can’t change something that must be accepted… I can’t change the unchangeable. I can’t simply elect to either accept or change something, I have to apply the right action to the issue otherwise the issue persists, and to do this I need to summon wisdom. In fact, I need to do this first, not last. When I know with confidence which action I must apply then it is already half-achieved in my mind.
When I look at my issues and choose wisely, which to accept and which to change, then the issues in my life start to get fewer and less troublesome; my serenity increases.
The serenity prayer isn’t about asking God to fix my problems; it is a way for me to manage my serenity. The only difference between a god-fearing person and me with respect to this prayer is that they ask God for wisdom, courage and serenity whereas I call on myself to summon them.