Today’s post is going to be on the Serenity Prayer. Most people have probably heard of it, maybe even memorized it. It’s been around for a long time, and it’s been a part of a lot of self-help or recovery experiences.
What is The Serenity Prayer? It states,
“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.”
You don’t have to be religious, or believe in God to have the philosophy of this prayer to impact your life. And, that’s what I teach a lot of people in therapy. I go over this quite a bit, in a lot of different life challenges. Whether it’s addiction, stress, anxiety or any other unhealthy emotion. Let’s look at it one section at a time.
The first sentence says “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” What is serenity? Serenity is defined as “the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled.” Don’t we all want more calm and peace in our life? We live in a hectic world that is stressful and has a lot of challenges. Having calm and peace is really important to each one of us and our personal happiness and well being.
How does the Serenity Prayer help us be calm and peaceful? In this first part, we’re trying to accept things we cannot change or control. It is my experience that a lot of people come into therapy with stress and anxiety, and they are stressing about and having anxiety over things that are completely out of their control. You’ve probably experienced this in your life, too.
Just think about the things that cause you stress and anxiety, and ask yourself, “Do I have control over this right now in my life?” Usually the answer is “no.” We have to be able to learn to accept the things we cannot change or control, and be able to let them go.
If you’re religious you may also use the phrase, “Let go and let God.” Or having faith and trust that these things will all work out.
If you’re not religious you can have the attitude of, “This too will pass” or I can’t do anything about it, so again I’m going to let it go and not spend the effort and energy in worrying about something that I cannot change. It does not do well for our emotional well being, our mental well being, our physical well being or our spiritual well being to spend time and energy on those things that are out of our control. It really can effect us in all areas of our life if we spend a lot of effort and energy worrying and stressing about things that are out of our control.
When we learn to “accept the things we cannot change”, we are going to have a greater sense of serenity, therefore have more calm and peace in our life.
The second part of The Serenity Prayer is, “Courage to change the things I can.” Now, we can take a look at the aspects of our life that may be causing us stress and anxiety, and ask ourselves, “Is this something I can change in my life?” And, if it is, then having the courage and the willingness to put forth the effort and energy to change it. If it is something we cannot change or control, then we refer back to the first part and accept we cannot do something about and let it go.
If we examine the first two sections of the serenity prayer, serenity to accept the things we cannot change and courage to change the things we can, and we really take the time in different circumstances and different situations, to really evaluate the situation and to be aware of which part of this prayer or philosophy we’re dealing with, chances are we are going to be significantly less stressed, and we’re going to experience serenity, calm and peace in our life.
The final part to The Serenity Prayer is, “Wisdom to know the difference.” Now, this may seem simple, but I think it does take wisdom to really know what I can control or change in my life versus what I can’t. I think we get on autopilot, and we automatically assume or think this is something I can’t change or control. When, really it is. Or, we think we can control it. We think we have some control over a situation, when we really don’t. Being able to look in the mirror, and being able to admit to ourselves if we can or cannot change or control the situation is an essential component of the Serenity Prayer. Control is really an illusion, isn’t it?
There is not a lot of things that we can control in life, except for ourselves. So, if we think that we can control the outcome of a situation that is outside of ourselves, I think that we are fooling ourselves. This will cause ourselves to have more stress and anxiety that is ultimately unnecessary.
Being able to know what we can or cannot control or change in our lives is about being honest with ourself. We have to be honest with ourselves whether we can control a situation in our life, and then we have to be willing to do something about it. That’s where the courage comes in. Or, we have to be honest with ourself and know I can’t change this, admitting this is something I cannot control. This can be difficult, because a lot of us have a need to control other people, or things that we don’t or can’t have control over. This really causes a lot of stress and anxiety and discomfort in our lives.
So, here’s my challenge for today. Really take a look at your life and ask yourself if the things that you stress over are things that you can change, or you cannot. If it is something you cannot change or control, be willing to let go of it. If you can, then take the time to make the change you need to make to bring peace, calm and serenity into your life.
I also challenge you to memorize the Serenity Prayer. Memorizing it will help you when you go into stressful situations. It will be easily retrieved and easier to apply when you need it the most.
Garron Griffitts is a licensed clinical social work in Mesa, Arizona.