The Serenity Prayer and
How It Can Change Your Life
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The Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr has become one of the most famous and popular prayers in the world. The prayer is used as a powerful way of enlisting divine support in developing grace, serenity, courage, and wisdom. The widespread popularity of the prayer developed largely as a result of being adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in the 1940s. It is also used widely by other twelve-step programs of recovery.
The most commonly quoted part of the Serenity Prayer comprises the following three simple phrases:
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.
It is interesting to note that the prayer has been named the Serenity Prayer, as serenity is only one of the four values mentioned. In the ups and downs and challenges that life inevitably brings each of us, serenity is vitally important to our peace of mind. Serenity can be defined as a disposition free from stress or emotion or the absence of mental stress or anxiety. If serenity can be our prevailing state, we will find that we are in a much better position to be able to respond to situations as required with grace, courage, and wisdom.
The philosophy contained within the Serenity Prayer is very valuable, and resonates deeply with the philosophy of this site. Acceptance, with serenity, of things that cannot be changed is so vital in being able to go with the flow and stop battling against the tide of change and circumstance. So much of our suffering comes from wanting things to be different from how they really are.
As Byron Katie says, “I realized that it’s insane to oppose it. When I argue with reality, I lose - but only 100% of the time. How do I know that the wind should blow? It’s blowing!” If we argue that the wind should not be blowing when it is, we are failing to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed.
By enlisting divine help to develop our ability to flow with grace and serenity, we can begin to stop struggling, and as Susan Jeffers says, ‘dance with life.’
The second phrase of the Serenity Prayer reminds us that there are also things that are within our control to change, and that finding the courage within us to be able to change them is best done with divine support. One of the biggest things that we can always change is our own attitudes and reactions.
Making changes does indeed take courage – change is scary, and often difficult. The challenge of making changes, the fear of the unknown, and the false sense of security that comes with the familiar often keeps us feeling trapped in circumstances that are within our power to change.
While praying for courage, we must also be willing to take action. A leap of faith is often required to get us out of a familiar but dissatisfying situation, and into the great unknown. A combination of clarity about the direction we truly want to take, faith that whatever happens, we will handle it with our inner strength and courage plus the divine support that is always available to us, and the action that is required to create the physical change we desire is a winning formula.
As it says in the third phrase of the Serenity Prayer, ‘the wisdom to know the difference,’ (between what we can and cannot change) is also vitally important. Failing to recognize what things are or aren’t within our power to change can create two main types of unwanted outcome.
Firstly, if we are convinced that we can, or should be able to change the things we cannot change, we find ourselves fighting the 100% losing battle that Byron Katie mentions. Engaging in this kind of fruitless struggle is exhausting and frustrating, but without cultivating the wisdom that comes from our connection with the divine, we can end up spending years beating our heads on brick walls, and wondering why we get headaches!
When we learn to trust the deep inner knowing that prayer can help us tap into, we can gain clarity on the true nature of things. From a position of clarity, we can seek to develop real serenity in accepting those things that we cannot change.
The other scenario is that without wisdom, we fail to recognize the things that are, in fact, within our power to change. As a result we often wind up feeling trapped and powerless. By praying for help in connecting with the wisdom of our souls, we can learn to distinguish those elements of our lives that we do not have to go on accepting. We are then in the position of needing to enlist our courage to go ahead and start turning things around for a happier, more empowered life.
Whether you feel that using the famous Serenity Prayer is just what you need to help you develop greater serenity in your life, or whether you prefer to create a serenity prayer of your own, there is no doubt that connecting with the Divine is a wonderful way to increase your sense of wellbeing and inner peace.
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