Last year someone gave me a journal on which these words are printed:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”
Though I use the journal regularly, I confess that I’ve secretly disliked the prayer printed on the front cover. Why? For one thing, the pages of my journal are filled with the names of those I am praying for, people who desperately need something to change in their lives. They need healing, peace, provision, salvation, wisdom, rescue, hope. They are people who are out of work, who have lost a loved one, who are in jail, who are depressed or dying. It seems an assault on faith to embrace a prayer that implies that some circumstances will not likely change. For another, this prayer challenges deeply embedded beliefs about my own ability to change things. After all, I am a fighter, not someone who gives up. I am active, not passive. Or at least that is how I like to see myself.
At first I was tempted to give the journal away or consign it to the trash bin. Instead, I forced myself to use it. I kept it because I suspected that God was trying to get my attention. After all, this prayer has hit a chord with millions of people who have struggled with various kinds of addiction. Surely there was something I needed to learn from it.
As I began to unpack the prayer, I considered the obvious—that it expresses the starting point of faith, which is my own inability to provide for anyone’s deepest needs, including my own. To reach this place is to face reality, to let go of illusions. To stop kidding myself about what I can and cannot do. Though illusions can be comforting, they keep me leaning into my own limited powers rather than God’s all-sufficient power. Contrary to first impressions, the serenity prayer is not about giving up but about letting go so God can do what only he can, and that is to bring healing, peace, salvation, wisdom, rescue, and hope to those who need it. There are of course some things in life that we can change. That’s why the whole prayer goes like this:
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.