Whether or not you’re in 12-step recovery, you’ve likely heard of the Serenity Prayer. The original version (see below) is attributed to Reinhold Neibuhr, but the shortened version is the one with which most people are familiar:
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.
It’s a simple but powerful prayer, and it’s one that I connect with on a regular basis. Sometimes just saying it out loud is what I need. Other times I need to spell it out for myself in order to let it sink in and see how it applies to my situation. It’s a helpful exercise, and I often recommend to my clients. Here’s an example using a minor incident that happened to me, although this tool applies to all kinds of situations—big or small.
Here’s what happened: I went to fill my dog’s ceramic water bowl and it slipped out of my hand, landing on two pieces of handmade, one-of-a-kind pottery that were in the sink. Both of them broke. Not the end of the world, but both were pieces that I loved. Here’s what using the Serenity Prayer looked like following this disappointing situation:
- God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (list what can’t be changed about thesituation):
- The pottery was in the sink.
- I didn’t move them before I filled Maisie’s bowl.
- The bowl slipped out of my hands.
This is an acceptance of the situation as it is. What if, I should have, why did I, etc., can’t change what happened. That line of thinking only fuels stress, anger and overwhelm.
- The courage to change the things I can (list what I have some say over):
- I can have my feelings about it (disappointment and sadness).
- I can choose to practice acceptance.
- I can find out if either piece can be repaired.
- I can take a deep breath if I need it (I did).
We always have a choice in any situation. Always. It doesn’t always seem so in difficult situations, but I believe we do.
- And the wisdom to know the difference: If I’m unclear about what I can and can’t change (which doesn’t apply here), I’d list those out and talk it through with a trusted recovery friend. I also try to actively practice acceptance that I’m unclear about. Or I head back to the beginning of the prayer to see if I can get more clarity.
I encourage you to try using the Serenity Prayer as a recovery tool and see how it works. Below are a few alternate versions of the prayer. If the traditional version doesn’t resonate with you, see if any of these are a better fit. Or write your own. The idea is to seek acceptance for what is out of your control and to remind yourself that you always have a choice.
Peace on the journey,
Alternate Versions of the Serenity Prayer
God, grant me the serenity…
Serenity meaning that I no longer recoil from the past, live in jeopardy because of my behavior now, or worry about the unknown future. I seek regular times to recreate myself and I avoid those times of depletion which make me vulnerable to despair and to old self-destructive patterns.
To accept the things I cannot change…
Accept change in that I not cause suffering for myself by clinging to that which no longer exists. Al that I can count on is that nothing will be stable except now I respond to the transforming cycles in my life of birth, growth and death.
To change the things I can…
Which means remembering that to give up my attempts to control outcomes does not require I give up my boundaries of my best effort. It does mean my most honest appraisal of the limits of what I can do.
And the wisdom to know the difference…
Wisdom becomes the never forgotten recognition of all those times when there was no way out, and new paths opened up like miracles in my life.
- Dr Patrick Carnes, A Gentle Path Through the Twelve Steps
God, grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know that one is me.
- ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics/Dysfunctional Families)
God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
- Reinhold Neibuhr, Full version of the Serenity Prayer
I seek the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
- Tim Sledge
God, grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, which is pretty much everyone, since I'm clearly not you, God. At least not the last time I checked. And while you're at it, God, please give me the courage to change what I need to change about myself, which is frankly a lot, since, once again, I'm not you, which means I'm not perfect. It's better for me to focus on changing myself than to worry about changing other people, who, as you'll no doubt remember me saying, I can't change anyway. Finally, give me the wisdom to just shut up whenever I think that I'm clearly smarter than everyone else in the room, that no one knows what they're talking about except me, or that I alone have all the answers. Basically God, grant me the wisdom to remember that I'm not you. Amen.
God, grand me the serenity to stop beating myself up for
not doing things perfectly,
the courage to forgive myself because I am working on doing better, and the wisdom to know that you already love me just the way I am.
- Eleanor Brownn
God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.