These days, a lot of people have heard of the Serenity Prayer. Anyone who has gone to 12 Step meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous or Al-Anon for relief from alcohol or drug addiction will recognize this prayer as the group recitation at the end of these meetings.
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.
But although you may have heard this prayer a number of times, and perhaps recited it yourself many times, have you ever explored it in a deeper way to see what it really means to you?
GOD, GRANT ME THE SERENITY
Ah, serenity! The dictionary defines “serenity” as tranquility, peacefulness and calmness. How we all long to feel that on an ongoing basis! Serenity is a major component of physical and emotional self-care. When you do not feel serene, you can suffer for it in a number of ways.
Physically, your stress levels are elevated as you find yourself worried, frustrated, even frantic. These feelings can contribute to such illnesses as heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome and cancer.
A lack of emotional serenity can lead to depression, insomnia and addictive behaviours such as alcohol and drug abuse, eating disorders and compulsive overspending.
TO ACCEPT THE THINGS I CANNOT CHANGE
Most of us recognize that there is indeed a power greater than us, and there are many things we cannot control or change. To test that theory, consider this: even if you don’t want the sun to rise tomorrow, it is going to rise anyway. Even if you want the grass outside to be purple, it is going to be green no matter what you do.
And even when you want other people to act in a different way, unless they are in agreement with what you want, you will likely have a very difficult time changing them, because actually changing someone other than yourself is impossible.
THE COURAGE TO CHANGE THE THINGS I CAN
Now comes the hard part – if we can’t change another person, or what colour the grass will be, or whether the sun will come up tomorrow morning, what on earth CAN we change?
And, of course, the only answer to that age-old question is “Ourselves.” We are only able to change ourselves. But in order to change something about ourselves, we need to first open our eyes wide enough to realize that our unhealthy behaviours have become problematic for us. We need to be willing to come out of our own denial and choose something different for ourselves.
It is not easy to take this kind of full responsibility for ourselves – and that is why this part of the Serenity Prayer calls for courage. It doesn’t require courage to do the easy things in life. It takes courage to be willing to change ourselves if we are not happy with something in our lives.
AND THE WISDOM TO KNOW THE DIFFERENCE
This may be the most important part of the Serenity Prayer. When we have “the wisdom to know the difference” between what we can and cannot change, we can save ourselves a lot of trouble and a lot of energy. When we can distinguish between what is and what is not something we can change, we are able to stop trying to control what we absolutely cannot control!
You can begin to accept your own imperfections and develop some very necessary understanding and compassion for yourself. This in turn will help you to be more understanding and compassionate towards others, even when you don’t like their behaviours.
In addition, as you start to respect yourself more, you will find yourself setting healthier boundaries with the people in your life. You will take personal responsibility for yourself and your decisions, including the ways in which you have allowed others to treat you.
Being granted the wisdom to know the difference, and knowing how to change the things you can, will create the serenity that you may have been seeking to find in your life.
So the next time you hear or recite the Serenity Prayer, consider what this simple prayer really means, and reflect on how you can change the things you can so that you can have the quality of life you want.