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. Reinhold Niebuhr
The serenity prayer was written by theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, sometime during the 1930’s. It was quoted by others a few times during the 1930’s. Niebuhr sometimes used it in his sermons.
The original wording was printed as follows:
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.
This prayer is widely used in alcoholics anonymous meetings and other 12 step programs. Some people think that it was written for alcoholics anonymous but it was not. They adopted it because it is a helpful tool to give recovering alcoholics a frame of reference for what to work to improve in their lives.
I love the first phrase “…accept…the things that cannot be changed” This is a very important concept for healing. It is an idea in Buddhism which is a practice that has a lot of healing benefit to it.
We cannot change everything. We cannot change other people. Peace comes through acceptance of letting go of the things we cannot change.
If we were to make a list of things that are causing us to feel anxiety right now, we might be surprised that there are things on the list that we cannot change. Especially in regards to other adult people.
We can guide and encourage. We can support and comfort. But in the end, we cannot cause other adults to change anything.
Even when someone is in a dangerous situation, like drug addiction, you can only be as supportive as you are able to be without incurring damage to yourself.
There is a point at which you have to protect yourself and draw a line as to how much help is reasonable to give to another adult.
I find the original wording interesting to compare to the updated version. There is a difference in the meaning of the second phrase. “courage to change the things that “should” be changed.”
I personally like this version better.
There are times we want to force our desires on other people as far as their choices go. But should we make another adult’s choices for them? People get self-esteem and confidence from making their own decisions.
“The wisdom to know the difference...” This may be the ultimate trick. How can we tell the difference between things we can change and things we cannot change. Well, basically we really only have the power to change ourselves. We can improve our mental and physical health. We can make choices and decisions that will create changes in our lives.
We have some power over the environment around us. We can clean and organize. We can move to a different place or to a different job. We can choose to make changes in behavior, relationship patterns, and habits. We can educate ourselves, learn new talents and create things.
If we can let go of the anxiety of trying to change things we can’t. we have more energy for working on the things we have some control over.