A Recovery Staple: The Serenity Prayer

Many of us are familiar with the prayer that begins, “God, grant me the serenity . . . ”

In my 21 years of sobriety, I’ve recited the first verse of The Serenity Prayer more than 3,000 times at meetings.  I’ve repeated its words during countless other times of pain, desperation and bewilderment.

I’ve listened to speakers break it down word-by-word, dissecting it’s nuances.  To me, the prayer is summarized with these five, simple words:






A Prayer to Ease Political and Social Unrest

I read an article in The Huffington Post today about the Serenity Prayer and its original prayer date in 1943 during the war against Germany.  Its creator, Reinhold Niebuhr (who was born in my home state of Missouri), first spoke the prayer in a farming community in Heath, MA.  He was expressing his political as well as spiritual concerns, according to Niebuhr’s daughter, Elisabeth Sifton in her book The Serenity Prayer: Faith and Politics in Times of Peace and War:

“To pray for the strength to change unjust, illiberal, selfish policies which gave rise to war, social unrest, and economic woe; to pray for the strength to help fashion a more fair, just, and peaceful world, and to work for that end.”

Sifton goes on to write in her book:

“The Serenity Prayer addresses the inconsolable pain, loss and guilt that war inflicts on the communities that wage it; it goes to the heart of the possibilities and impossibilities of collective action for collective betterment—that is to say, to the heart of the possibilities for peace.”

Don’t you find it comforting to know that just as the prayer was written to ease the “inconsolable pain, loss and guilt of war” caused by communities or even countries, so to is the prayer meant to console you for the pain, loss and guilt that you have waged against yourself and others?

Aren’t we ultimately praying for “the possibilities of peace” when we say The Serenity Prayer?

A Response to Applying the Prayer to Recovery

The Huffington Post asked Sifton what she might say to a room full of AA members about The Serenity Prayer being used as a tool for recovery.

She responded in an email,

“I’d tell them that they’re a step ahead of most everyone else, since they have acknowledged the need for daily, patient, modest work in building a good life–not everyone else has.”

During this month of celebrating Recovery, may we all think about the ways we have built a good life.  I know I’m feeling an immense amount of gratitude for the ways in which I’ve grown to love and accept myself–warts and all!–in the last 21 years.

Those five words listed above–God, Serenity, Acceptance, Courage and Wisdom–represent a five-pointed guiding star in my life.  I know that I’m a better person thanks to The Serenity Prayer and I pray daily to be shown how to carry its message of peace into all my activities, not just those surrounding recovery.

How do you incorporate The Serenity Prayer into your life?  Please share in the comments section below.

(photo courtesy of xololounge)

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  1. Galen Pearl says:

    This is a wonderful prayer. It covers a lot of ground in a few words. We spent an entire meeting of my monthly 10 Steps discussion group talking about it in connection to Step 3–Give up the delusion of control. One thing I noticed is that serenity precedes acceptance. I used to think that if I learned to accept, serenity would follow. But the prayer asks for serenity first in order to accept. Big difference. A prayer worth much study, contemplation, and certainly praying!

    • Beth says:

      Hi Galen,

      You make such a good point about serenity appearing in the prayer prior to acceptance. I hadn’t thought of the order either; like you, I used to think acceptance automatically brought all the other good stuff! But once again, my thinking is a little skewed!

      I am so very grateful for your thoughtful response and hope you’re enjoying a peaceful weekend.

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