Most people I know are at least somewhat familiar with what is known as “The Serenity Prayer.”
Popularized by 12 Step programs – most notably Alcoholics Anonymous – It typically reads like the graphic above. And it is usually “prayed” to whatever one conceives of as the “higher power” they choose. Some don’t even use the first word of the prayer “God”. They simply recite: “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.”
And one would be hard pressed to argue too much with those petitions – even as Christians. Or perhaps especially as Christians.
The original author, Reinhold Niebuhr, penned it somewhere around 1932. He subsequently used it in several noted sermons he preached. But it wasn’t until 1951 that Niebuhr actually had the prayer published. And in its published form, it is strikingly different than the way most of us have heard it. Especially in the second stanza. Here’s how it reads in full:
God, give me 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. Living one day at a time, Enjoying one moment at a time, Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, Taking, as Jesus did, This sinful world as it is, Not as I would have it, Trusting that You will make all things right, If I surrender to Your will, So that I may be reasonably happy in this life, And supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen
Notice a few things.
1 – The very first line is directed to God, not some nebulous higher power.
2 – That the prayer is not just for serenity, but rather for “grace to accept with serenity.” There is recognition that grace is what is needed foremost, not just serenity. The serenity sought for isn’t deserved or earned, but granted by grace.
3 – That the courage needed is to change the things which should be changed, not just what can be changed. There is a presupposition that some things really do NEED to change, to be brought into their proper place. It is not courage to just change everything, but to bring things into a framework of what they ought to be. That there is an objective pattern to be restored to.
4 – That acceptance of hardship is a necessary facet of a healthy mind and soul. And this, in a society where all hardship is viewed as inherently contrary to our “rights.”
5 – To see the world as truly sinful, and broken.
6 – To live in this world knowing that its sinfulness and brokenness is to be expected, and will not be fixed – at least not now, not by us, and that it will not be conformed to our individual liking.
7 – That ultimate justice rests with God, not with us. While we must do justly, final justice must be left in His hands. He must be trusted to bring it to pass in due time.
8 – And that it is the surrender of our wills to His, that will make us “reasonably” happy now, but that supreme happiness will only be found in eternity with Him. In Christ.
If all we are praying for is serenity while accepting life’s limitations and doing what we can to make life better – we are aiming far, far too low.
And this is why only in the context of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Cross believed and lived – this prayer can really make any sense.
I pray, you can pray it – as it ought to be prayed.