The Perfection of Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer

    Many years ago I worked for a year in a hospital-based substance abuse program for the dually diagnosed; residents had to have an addiction plus a major mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. It was my first really intense experience with addicts and I learned a lot–especially about 12-step programs such as AA or NA.  Many of the staff who worked in the program were “in recovery” themselves.  I developed a healthy respect for AA and how working the steps could be life-transforming.

    We ended every meeting by joining hands and reciting the short version of the Serenity Prayer: “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.”  I very much liked the prayer and the AA tradition. It seemed to put an exclamation mark at the end of each meeting. I was also happy that the 12-steps hinged on accepting a “higher power” as I knew that for 99% of the folks in our program that higher power was God, and I was pleased that any kind of prayer could be part of a program that was mostly funded by federal money in the form of Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements.

    Three years ago I started attending a Celebrate Recovery program that met at my church.  There I encountered the Serenity Prayer again–and much to my surprise found out that there was more to it than serenity, courage and wisdom in one sentence. There was a whole other part that greatly expanded the prayer and made it in some sense almost perfect. There are really twelve elements in the prayer and that seems appropriate as 12 is one of the biblical numbers signifying perfection or completion (12 apostles, 12 tribes, etc). I also found out that it was attributed to a famous theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr.

    I have broken the prayer down into its twelve elements.

    Serenity ~ God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

    Courage ~ the courage to change the things I can,

    Wisdom ~ and the wisdom to know the difference.

    Present-ness ~ Living one day at a time;

    Enjoying ~ enjoying one moment at a time;

    Acceptance ~ accepting hardship as the pathway to peace;

    Reality ~ taking as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is,

    Humility ~ not as I would have it;

    Trust ~ trusting that You will make all things right

    Surrender ~ if I surrender to Your will;

    Contentment ~ so that I may be reasonably happy in this life

    Joy ~ and supremely happy with You forever in the next. 

    And all God’s people said, “AMEN” ~ It seems to me that those 12 elements are attributes or characteristics that every recovering person, or for that matter every Christian, should strive toward.  And it seems appropriate too that the omega-point in our often painful process of growth, surrender and acceptance is Joy.


About diospsytrek

I am a licensed mental health counselor in Florida. I am also the author of four books. The books have to do with coping with depression and other mood disorders, and the nexus of psychological problems and spiritual warfare.
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