Actionable Wisdom

Serenity Prayer: Wisdom, Courage, & Peace Now


Published August 22nd, 2018 by Ben Reynolds

The abridged version of the Serenity Prayer is:

“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.”

The full Serenity Prayer is:

“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 hardships as the pathway to peace,

Taking, as He 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.”

You can download a printable version of both the full and abridged versions of the Serenity Prayer by clicking here.

Keep reading this article to learn:

  1. The meaning of the Serenity Prayer
  2. How to apply the Serenity Prayer to your life
  3. Examples of application in life and business
  4. The history, author, and origin of the Serenity Prayer
  5. Action steps

The Meaning of The Serenity Prayer

The core of the Serenity Prayer is in its abridged version, which consists of 3 parts:

  1. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
  2. Courage to change the things I can
  3. And wisdom to know the difference

Line One

To understand the meaning of the first line, the word ‘serenity’ must be understood.  Serenity is the state of being serene; and the definition of serene is:

“Calm, peaceful, or tranquil; unruffled.”

The first line of the prayer is asking for the reader to reach the emotional state of peace necessary to accept what cannot be changed.

To do this, you must momentarily detach from the situation at hand and examine it.  Only then can you come to accept what cannot be changed.

Line Two

The second line again asks for an emotional state.  This time, it is courage.  Line two has the praying party asking God for the courage to change what can be changed.

Note that the prayer asks God for the courage to change the things you can change, yourself.  It does not say to wait for God to change them for you or to remain indecisive.

Courage and fortitude are required to take charge of your life and change what needs to be changed.  Line two acknowledges the emotional state necessary to make real changes.

It should be noted that just because something can be changed, doesn’t always mean it should be changed.  The areas of your life you look to change should be those that provide the greatest impact in reaching your goals and living in accord with your values.

Line Three

The third line “And the wisdom to know the difference” ties the first two lines together.  Knowing what can and cannot be changed is central to know where to focus to improve your life.

Wisdom is required to know the difference between what we have no power over and what we do have control over.

To summarize, the meaning of the Serenity Prayer is:

  1. To understand what we can and can’t change
  2. To have the courage to take action on what’s in our power
  3. And the ability to accept what we have no power to change

The Serenity Prayer is powerful, but just knowing the prayer alone likely won’t make a big difference in your life.  You have to take action and apply its wisdom for it to make a difference.

How To Apply The Serenity Prayer to Your Life

The Serenity Prayer divides everything that affects us into 2 camps:

  1. Things we can’t control
  2. Things we can control

If something is beyond our circle of influence, we should not attempt to control it.  Doing so would be a waste of time and effort.

When an important situation arises in your life, ask yourself, “Can I do anything about this?”

In some cases, the answer is yes.  If you have an important interview coming up, you can take steps to improve your chances of landing the job by: reading up on the company, dressing well, and coming in early , and having a positive attitude.

You can’t control which questions you are asked or the outcome of the interview.  All you can control are your own actions.  Therefore, worrying over the end result is a pointless exercise.

The key to applying the Serenity Prayer is to differentiate between things we can’t control and things we can.  That’s where the wisdom to know the difference comes into play.

In general, we can control our actions and responses to situations.  But we cannot control the exact situations that life throws our way.  Situations and other people’s responses are out of our control.  Our own responses are within our control.

Memorizing the Serenity Prayer and reciting it during a difficult situation is an excellent way to take a moment, take stock of what is happening, and respond in a way that you will be proud of in the future.

Examples of Application in Life & Business

Life Example:  Health Issues

Imagine you have the misfortune of developing a brain tumor.  The first step after diagnosis is accepting reality.  This is the “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change” part of the Serenity Prayer.

Once you accept reality, then you can go to work on changing what you can about the situation.  Perhaps through additional testing, research, and advice from your doctor you discover there’s a medication, treatment plan, or surgery that can improve your situation.  This is the second part of the Serenity Prayer:  “Courage to change the things I can”.

Finally, discerning between what you cannot change (the reality of your situation today), and what you can change (your course of action for treatment and/or acceptance) is the final part of the Serenity Prayer:  “…Wisdom to know the difference”.

Business Example:  Starting a Business

Imagine you have a great idea for a new business.  Here’s an area where you have quite a bit of leeway to act.  But starting a business can be both difficult and intimidating.  Asking for the ‘courage to change the things you can’ is a great place to start.

When you break down large challenges like starting a business into things you can’t change and things you can change, the road ahead becomes clearer.

You can’t change where you start today,  but you can take action and start.  For example, if you can’t find an investor, you can keep looking or think about the minimum viable product you can build today to prove your concept.

If you don’t think you have time, you can carve out an hour or two every weekend and 30 minutes before work during weekdays to make a bit of progress every day.  There’s almost always something you can do.  Applying the Serenity Prayer to your goals can help you go from 0 to 1 because it shows you what is in your power (and what isn’t).

History and Common Questions Surrounding the Serenity Prayer

Is the Serenity Prayer in the Bible?

No, the Serenity prayer is not in the Bible, but it is part of the Christian tradition as it was (almost certainly) created by a Christian realist.

Who Wrote the Serenity Prayer and When Was It Written?

The exact author of the Serenity Prayer is in question, but it was most likely Reinhold Niebuhr.  The earliest version of the prayer dates back to 1932.

Popularity as the “Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Prayer”

Part of the popularity of the Serenity Prayer can be attributed to its widespread use in the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) community.  The Serenity Prayer was used in AA circles as far back as the early 1940’s, and continues to be used now.

Stoic Precursor to the Serenity Prayer

In 108 AD Stoic Philosopher Epictetus’ Discourses were written by Arrian.  The following quote from Epictetus has a similar message to the modern day Serenity Prayer:

“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control.  Where do I look for good and evil?  Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…”

Source:  The Daily Stoic, page 9; originally from Discourses by Epictetus, 2.5.4-5
Note:  You can download a free PDF of Epcitetus’ Discourses here.  The quote above is on page 104.

Epictetus’s above quote shares the Serenity Prayer’s division of matters into things that you can’t control and things you can.  Epictetus advises to look for good and evil in what we can control; our own choices.

Action Steps

The abridged Serenity Prayer elegantly articulates where to spend your time and energy.

Don’t focus on externals you cannot control.  Focus on what you can control; your own choices and actions.

Knowing the Serenity Prayer and repeating it occasionally will likely not in itself give you any significant lasting benefit.  Make a habit of focusing on what you can control and accepting what you cannot; applying the Serenity Prayer to your life is much more likely to make a big impact in your life.

Unfortunately habits aren’t formed by simply reading one article.  Practicing and repeating the behavior you want to become a habit is necessary to ingrain it into your lifestyle..

Coming soon:  The 30-Day Focused Action Challenge is a free 30 day email course to build the habit of identifying what’s in your power, accepting what you can’t control, and taking action on what you can change.  Click here to join the wait list.