The Serenity Prayer

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.
~

Reinhold Niebuhr

This is the short version of the prayer that has been used in meetings all the time that I’ve been in AA.  Wikipedia says that Bill Wilson brought this to meetings and that the Grapevine has published it.  There is a longer version, and my view of the longer version is slightly colored by my feeling that I have read a political interpretation of it.  It’s hard for me not to see the longer version that way.

This short version, though, is something I gratefully learned almost immediately and it lasts so well and so long because it is oh-so true.

I’ve come to understand that primarily, all I can change is myself, mostly my attitudes.  Just about anything outside of me is off limits.  I influence people, events, and the physical world, to a very very small degree.  I dare say, not in a self-pitying way, that should I be gone tomorrow, my influence would be almost completely gone five years from now, except for the way I’ve influenced my children in the past, and what they go on to do in the future.

I ask God for serenity to accept almost everything outside of me.  Things I cannot change include but at not limited to: weather, politics, the price of eggs, most illness, disease and death, most poverty, time, the past, my physical limitations, your physical limitations, the opinions of most people, war, football.  Google collage of things I can’t change:  the way you feel, the direction of the wind, heredity, increasing age, anybody’s mind, color, what I am, language, THE WORLD.

I do believe I drank because I couldn’t accept the things I couldn’t change.

Jumping to the end, the wisdom to know the difference is imperative.  Nothing like knocking myself out against the same brick wall over and over and over again.  Honestly, sometimes I do realize after a time that my efforts to change someone else will not work.  Usually.  Not always, because some people in some relationships with me are willing and able to change because I’ve asked them to, or better yet, because I have inspired them to.  I’m also willing to spend time trying to have a small effect on a big change, like doing some small part for an election of a candidate I believe in.  Some would argue I can’t change events, but sometimes I’m willing to try a bit.

Courage to change what I can, for me, is mostly courage to change.  Carole and I were reading an AA book by that name until it got too cold to sit outside, and I’ve been thinking of going back to it.  The change that AA brings is fundamental and profound.  I don’t feel particularly courageous about it, because I, like so many of us, had to be beaten to the ground to get up the courage to change in that way.  Change or die, was the choice, and I’m grateful I was able to make that change.

As the years go by the changes are more subtle, I think, but in a way it gets harder for me.  The first changes were necessary to preserve life and freedom.  The first changes brought huge results and profound improvements.

Now I am a law-abiding citizen.  Now I have a job I can do and that, for today, they’re willing to let me keep.  Now my children will answer the phone if I call (usually) and my wife is glad to see me (today).  Now I have a sobriety I can (mostly) easily and (mostly) happily maintain in a way that fits in my life very well.

Now for me the courage and the will to change what I can don’t come often enough without, still, that wondrous touchstone of growth – pain.

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One thought on “The Serenity Prayer

  1. I often change the serenity prayer to: God, grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannont change, the courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know its me.

    I have a much harder time accepting people than things and circumstances I find…so this tends to help when I remind myself that I only have control over ME.

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