Friday, April 07, 2006


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. Anyone who has had any involvement in any 12-step recovery program from Gamblers Anonymous to the grand daddy of them all – Alcoholics Anonymous knows these 27 words well. Hold on… Let’s call it 26 words. I’ll invite agnostics (like myself) and atheists along and leave out the word “God.” It doesn’t lessen or invalidate these simple words in the least. Besides, any God that I can embrace would not have an ego that demands such homage.

The origin of this prayer is in some question, although it would be a stretch to call it a controversy. There is some evidence that it may be very old indeed. As far as modern history and its adoption by AA and others is concerned, it can be traced back to an obituary appearing in the New York Times around 1939. It was brought to the attention of Bill W., co-founded of AA, who thought it embodied what AA was all about. The rest, as they say, is history.

But why are these 26 simple words so powerful? I don’t believe for one minute it’s the first word – the one I omitted. Is it in their sheer simplicity? Perhaps they embody the essence of what life is all about. It’s the concentrate; the extract; the precipitate – it’s what it all boils down to. These words quite possibly represent the lowest common denominator. Serenity, acceptance, courage and ultimately… wisdom; this is life in a nutshell.

Although this prayer comes off as a request – grant me – to me it is more of a mandate. They are words to live by. Directions, as it were. They set up a cause and effect; it presents a conditional statement – an “if/then,” if you will. If I can accept the things I cannot change, demonstrate the courage to change the things I can and practice the wisdom to know the difference, then I’ll have serenity. Peace. I’ll know peace.


Ellen said...

Once again, brilliant Mr. A.!
Thanks for the daily wisdom.... there never is enough of it in my book.

Bar L. said...

I posted this yesterday...or was it the day before? I need to read it/think it/live it daily. But I haven't been.

BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

Great post!

Sometimes I have to say these words 50 times a day to quit my mind. Also, it becomes possible to say, "God, grant me the serenity to (and insert what it is, such as accept I cannot change something, etc.)

neal said...

I think as with all words of wisdom, that brevity is what makes them so powerful. It seems that all those sayings I remember my father pounding into my head were short, concise, and to the point.

-It is better to remain silent and let people to think you a fool than to open your mouth and prove them right.
-Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
-An honest days work for an honest days pay.

They all are to the point yet there is nothing that needs to be added to make them any more potent.

neal said...

I forgot my favorite. What a dunce!

-You learn more with your eyes and ears than you do with your mouth.

BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

I understand the prision of being trapped inside the walls of one's own brain.

The serenity prayer is a good tool to release oneself from oneself. It works for me, definitely.

May I also say that BW would tell you to read page 449. I have to go there sometimes 10 times a day, and usually have a quieter mind and peacefuler heart afterwards.

Moment to moment...heartbeat to heartbeat...

The Zombieslayer said...

Excellent prayer. But right now, I'm praying for patience.