Serenity Prayer: Full Version
Literally millions of people are familiar with the Serenity Prayer: “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.”
As we have discussed in our previous blogs, this prayer was composed by pastor and theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in the early 1930’s. It has become an integral part of most, if not all, work with addiction and those who suffer with anxiety and depression. Its insights are also crucial to work in marriage counseling and many types of individual therapy.
But, did you know that these familiar words are not the whole prayer? Here is the text of the whole prayer as Niebuhr wrote it.
“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. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as the pathway to peace. Taking, as He [Jesus] did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it. Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will, that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen.”
When we see that famous first sentence in its full context, the Truths it conveys are much more rich and focused. Niebuhr was a practitioner of what came to be called “Christian Realism.” It is the opposite of both the “pie-in-the-sky” that was, in the words of one critic, “so heavenly minded it was no earthly good,” and the opposite of the naïve and irresponsible “prosperity gospel” that has become so popular in our day and age. As Niebuhr would write, “The tragedy of man is that he can conceive self-perfection but cannot achieve it.” Hence, his clarion call for grace and forgiveness.
People with whom we work in our practice know that life is not easy and that easy answers and simplistic clichés do more harm than good. Niebuhr understood this. Our work with addiction, struggling marriages, affair recovery, divorce, anxiety, and depression drives home the Truths in this prayer every day.
As the prayer states, we can get hung up trying to be “supremely happy” in this life. We can expend enormous amounts of emotional energy trying to remake the world as “we would have it,” not as it is. We can numb ourselves through addiction or denial so that we don’t have to face the reality that “hardship is the pathway to peace.”
These are hard truths, and it helps to have a wise, experienced guide along the way—someone to walk with you who has trod the road before you.
As they say, never follow a leader who doesn’t limp. A leader is one who has walked that hard roads, knows where the dangers are, has lived to tell about it, and can guide you through, as well.