The Serenity Prayer is hanging somewhere on the wall of every 12 Step meeting, and folks in recovery say it at some point every time we gather together.
After 30 days, we can recite it in our sleep (and perhaps we do): “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 not original to the “mother fellowship,” Alcoholics Anonymous; in fact, it’s popped up in various forms for centuries, in a number of different faiths, but regardless of our spiritual beliefs or our membership in a 12 Step group, we’ve found it to be a near-perfect guide to getting clean and sober, staying that way and enjoying those gifts.
Whether we see it as an actual prayer, a mantra or just a fervent wish, it offers a simple prescription for a healthy emotional life. Right out of the gate, it addresses the one thing we cannot change: our disease. No matter what we do or how hard we pray, we know that we can’t turn into a non-addict or non-alcoholic any more than we can grow two inches overnight or shed 10 years off of our age. We can’t change the fact that we’re addicts and alcoholics; instead, we must accept those things.
However, there are things we can change. We don’t have to accept addiction and alcoholism as death sentences; we don’t have to say, “I guess I’ll drink myself to death” or “I guess I’ll keep going until I overdose.” We can get clean and sober. We might still suffer from the diseases of addiction and/or alcoholism, but we can be recovering addicts and sober alcoholics.
And we know full well, having had a spiritual awakening as a result of getting clean and sober, that the decision to become this way certainly takes courage. Speaking of spiritual awakenings, having one of those requires the thing we pray for in the third part of the Serenity Prayer: the wisdom to see that it’s indeed possible to make those changes.
The Serenity Prayer, however, isn’t limited solely to our addiction and alcoholism. In fact, the further we get from our last drink or drug, the more beautiful and resonant with meaning those three lines become, especially when we apply them to situations that used to drive us to drinking or using.
For example: We might think, “I hate my job. Should I stick it out, or quit?” Certainly, we can change our situation by resigning, but is that a wise decision?
Praying for the wisdom to know whether we should help us weigh our options: Should we endure short-term financial hardship in hopes of something better? Or should we avoid making major life changes early in recovery?
If we decide to quit, we’ll then need courage to make the decision; if we decide to stay, we’ll need to accept the things we don’t like about our jobs and the courage to change the things we can.
Applying the Serenity Prayer to all aspects of our lives in which we may be troubled will indeed help us obtain the serenity we seek. In the beginning, such a thing seemed like an impossible goal, because to us, the word meant something different than we’ve come to understand.
Serenity, however, isn’t apathy or resignation to a situation in which we’re miserable; it’s a way to recognize the areas in which we’re powerless and the ways in which our choices can bring us a greater sense of peace and strength.
It’s a gyroscope, in other words, that lets us stay balanced no matter how much turbulence surrounds us, on the job or at home – and that’s certainly a state of mind worth praying for.
And in these troubled times, especially given the overwhelming spate of grim news out of El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, over the weekend, it’s sometimes the only prayer that brings us any comfort.
Because while the Serenity Prayer is a mantra used throughout recovery circles, we claim no dominion over it. And when the headlines overwhelm us with grief or horror or fury, it’s a useful tool to help us rein in those emotions and take stock of what we can and cannot control.
Even in our darkest of hours, there’s comfort to be found in letting go of the things over which we have no control and making a commitment to doing something about the things we can.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, like we’re insignificant insects trapped in a world gone insane, but whether we’re in recovery or just folks trying to get by, we owe it to one another to strive for the greater good.
The Serenity Prayer is a form of self-encouragement, in a sense, and in these troubled times, we often need to buoy our own spirits the most.
Only then can we put forth our best efforts to make our little corners of the world a better place. It all starts with us, and it can all start with the Serenity Prayer.
That’s a gift those of us in recovery get right out of the gate, but it’s a useful tool for everyone.