The Serenity Prayer has been part of regular AA meetings for many years, and is a great help for many alcoholics. Some people might say, ‘Why pray?’ The answer is simple – it’s a good prayer – it’s a prayer that works: a belief in the power of prayer to God or Jesus for healing and recovery, has been one of ways that AA and NA have inspired thousands of desperate people to restore hope in their ability to withstand the cravings of their addiction. Alcoholics around the world need a prayer for help when they are fighting against temptation. The Serenity Prayer is the short prayer that they frequently turn to. For many recovering alcoholics, the Serenity Prayer is a daily prayer – because cravings and temptation have to be faced and overcome, every day of an alcoholic’s life. There are no ‘days off’ for an alcoholic.
The AA Prayer of Serenity
God, give us grace to accept with serenity
The things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
The version above, is a translation of the original untitled prayer, written down by the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in 1943, although there were oral versions of the Serenity Prayer in circulation, before that time.
There are several different variations of the Prayer of Serenity, but they are all based on the above text.
Alternative Versions of the Serenity Prayer
There is a popular shorter version of this powerful prayer of healing:
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.
Some version of the AA Prayer of Serenity has become a regular part of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, as well as NA meetings and other Addict Support groups. It forms part of 12 Step Programs in most places around the world. It is sometimes known as The Meeting Prayer.
Most of the variations of this alcoholic prayer have a similar structure: firstly, it’s a prayer asking for strength – a prayer to God or Jesus, or any higher power outside ourselves, asking for the courage to change.
Praying for serenity follows this, but it’s a specific sort of serenity – serenity in the face of accepting things as they really are – life and reality as it really is, not as we would like it to be – or how we kid ourselves that it is. Failure to accept ‘real’ reality about ourselves, and what we do, is really a demonstration of our ability to use denial to avoid making difficult decisions to change.
Denial vs Acceptance of Reality
Everybody uses denial to some degree – it’s normal. Denial protects our inner selves from facts that we feel we cannot accept…or cannot accept, yet. It’s a defence mechanism that can be useful in some circumstances. For example, it can be useful if we are not yet ‘ready’ to face some ‘awful truth’ – whatever it is that we feel is an ‘awful truth’.
Denial allows us time to adjust to the new reality. It could be an unexpected diagnosis of cancer, or it could be the fact that our drinking, or drug taking, has taken over our lives, and we have become powerless to control our cravings.
The value of denial in some circumstances is that it buys us time to adjust to new, and difficult information. But difficult facts are still facts. They are not going to go away, even if we deny them. We all have to face the truth in the end, no matter how difficult that might be.
If we continue to ‘protect’ ourselves through using denial of reality, it becomes counter-productive, because it is not a useful coping mechanism any longer – it is only delaying the inevitable. If it continues too long, denial becomes only ‘wishful thinking’.
For someone with an addiction, it is always better to stop using that safety net of denial sooner, rather than later – before lasting damage is done
Denial of reality is one of the major barriers to recovery. This Alcoholic’s Prayer strikes at the places where addicts of all types like to hide – where they feel ‘comfortable’ – where life seems to be easier. That is an illusion. That ‘more comfortable’ place is also the place that is destroying their lives, and the lives of their families.
It’s a tough prayer!
The Serenity Prayer is very effective for AA and NA members, exactly because it speaks the ‘truth’ about what needs to be done – and alcoholics and addicts all know this, deep down. William Shakespeare understood the importance of being truly honest with yourself:
“To thine own self be true”
That’s always a tough thing to do, but being true to yourself, and refusing to accept who and what you have become, is even harder for anyone with an addiction. Being totally honest with yourself, takes a huge amount of courage, and this Serenity Prayer has helped many alcoholics to admit to things as they really are – even when those things are not easy to admit, accept or live with.
Along with serenity and acceptance, alcoholics and addicts then need to find the courage to stay strong and resist the temptation to fall back into addiction. The Serenity Prayer has saved many people from relapsing when some extra crisis hits, and they want to return to the ‘comfort’ of their addiction.
The strength and courage that is given and received from fellow members at A A is one of the most important factors that help members of Alcoholics Anonymous to stay strong during a crisis. If you have an addiction, every day can be a day of crisis. The practice of including the Serenity Prayer as a regular part of AA meetings, reinforces the courage and determination of addicts to stay strong, whenever they need it. It’s a prayer that can ‘be there’ for recovering addicts – or anyone – whenever they need it.
Here is another Alcoholic’s Prayer written by Irene Palmer Costigan, in 1976. It expresses similar thoughts to the original AA Serenity Prayer:
Oh Lord, Watch over this Alcoholic.
Be Thou my Higher Power as I strive toward recovery.
Permit me to lean on You for strength and guidance.
Grant that I may become totally honest about my problem.
Touch my soul and spark my spirit into awareness, Lord,
That I may see the value of a sober life.
Show me the glory of the Dawn and a new day
And the reward of a Sunset and a day well lived.
Help me to deal with resentments, Lord, the real curse of the Alcoholic.
Take from me all hatred, anger and willfulness
And persuade me to work toward emotional health and maturity.
In Thy mercy, Lord, see fit to remove my cravings
For that which will destroy me – alcohol.
Keep me ever mindful that alone,
I am unable to maintain a happy sobriety.
Bring me ever closer to You,
And those who will help me along the way.
Most of all, prompt me to extend my hand
To the Alcoholic who still suffers,
So that through him or her,
I may find You, and continue sobriety.