February 23, 2024

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Understanding the Serenity Prayer

For those who have been affected by alcoholism, para-alcoholism, dysfunction, and abuse, and seek recovery in twelve-step fellowships, the Serenity Prayer recited at the beginning of their meetings is integral to the process.

“The Serenity Prayer… represents a concentrated measure of serenity, humility, courage, wisdom, and spirituality in 25 words,” according to the Adult Children of Alcoholics textbook (World Service Organization, 2006, p. 274). “It is a prayer that has anchored twelve-step meetings and the development of twelve-step fellowships for decades across the world. It is a proven prayer which causes anyone hearing it to pause.”

It is both food for the soul and the antidote to and the opposite of the instability and chaos that are often encountered in many homes, and, as an extension of them, in so much of the world today.

Its recitation in recovery-based meetings serves four fundamental purposes.

1). It establishes a connection with God or a Higher Power of the person’s understanding.

2). It ensures that all attendees are similarly linked and as a result are connected to each other.

3). It enables God to assess both individual and collective difficulties and to determine consensus thought, if so needed.

4). It enables Him, during individual shares, to lift and dissolve problematic incidents and areas of a person’s life, progressively restoring his soul to wholeness.

Because alcoholism and its numerous psychological, emotional, and spiritual manifestations are far too powerful for individual triumph over them, and because God is far greater than that disease-and all and everything else, for that matter-healing can only begin in His care, when everyone is commonly connected. As a result, that healing is, first and foremost, contingent upon surrender to Him.

The first three lines of the prayer provide a road map to the sometimes impossible-to-achieve state of serenity.

Its first, the request for serenity to “accept the things I cannot change,” puts a person’s ability and place in the world into perspective. Although he may believe that he has the cornerstone on truth and could “whip the world into shape if it would just listen to me and take my advice,” the person is, in the end, restricted by his own finite capabilities, viewpoints, and interpretations. His influence, as a result of this condition, is very limited.

The second line, in which a person prays for “the courage to change the things I can,” indicates that he has certain abilities and strengths to change himself and the way he views others and circumstances, especially with a Higher Power’s help.

“Al-Anon helps me accept what I cannot change and change what I can,” according to a member share in its Courage to Change text (Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., 1992, p. 284). “I can’t control the way alcoholism has affected my life, I can’t control another person, and I can’t made life unfold according to my plans.”

Serenity results from the “wisdom to know the difference.” It is calming and complete, in and of itself. It creates a new way of thinking–and a new way of thinking creates serenity. It is an inside job. It is the equivalent of self-acceptance, self-harmony, and self-peace. And it is realizing that whatever has already happened, whether the person was the cause or recipient of it, cannot be changed, no matter what he does now.

But the full Serenity Prayer, which is seldom read at twelve-step meetings, indicates that this state should not only be sought by those who have been exposed to family dysfunction and difficulty, but to anyone who is part of the human race and struggles to understand and accept it. It advocates living one day at a time and enjoying one moment at a time, but “taking… this sinful world as it is (and) not as I would have it.”

“The Serenity prayer helped me to believe that serenity, courage, and wisdom were attainable,” according to another Al-Anon member share in its Hope for Today book (Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc, 2002, p. 2). “It strengthened my belief in God and gave me hope for a brighter future… (It) can bring light to the parts of myself still clouded by my past.”

The Bible states that “as you think, so you are.” If you can do so with serenity, then you may be better able to view the world in this state, since much of it exists within.

Article Sources:

Adult Children of Alcoholics. Torrance, California: World Service Organization, 2006.

Courage to Change. Virginia Beach, Virginia: Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., 1992.

Hope for Today. Virginia Beach, Virginia: Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., 2002.