Wisdom, Courage & Serenity Prayer

There is so much goodness packed into this simple and ageless 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

Whether you believe in God or not, or whether you have your own vision of God, this is a powerful mantra that many of us (like me) have never spent much time thinking about it until this morning when I received an email referencing the prayer. It caught my attention so I decided to look up its origins.

While it sounds like something from the Bible it is not, and was allegedly written in the 1930’s (there is some confusion over the exact source) however many similar mantras have existed over the years dating back to 8th century Buddhism.

The version above stands out because it is so clear and simple and as a result it was adopted by army chaplains in World War II and then around the same time, by Alcoholics Anonymous as a way for its members to overcome addiction.

The author of the email from this morning was Steve Chandler who thought that this prayer should be renamed. Serenity is good he said, but calling it the Serenity Prayer ignores the other two amazing parts of this prayer and they are courage and wisdom. So instead he calls it the Courage Prayer.

Perhaps serenity comes from being courageous.

I prefer to think of it in reverse order: the Wisdom, Courage and Serenity Prayer.

To me, what makes it so powerful is that it cultivates inner strength and empowerment simply by asking for these things. And it is succinct.

Any way you name it this prayer is great and although it has never been part of my own morning prayers, it will be from now on.


One Response to Wisdom, Courage & Serenity Prayer
  1. Francis Moran
    September 12, 2013 | 11:19

    Due to one of the factors you cite in your post, Eliot, I have been regularly reciting this for more than 17 years now.

    I was aware of it long before that, of course, and always thought the courage bit was the most important because, as an angry young man intent on changing the world, that’s the attribute I thought I most needed.

    I don’t know if I have gained much wisdom over the years but I have learned that there is actually very little I can change about the world or, especially, about most of the people in it. I have learned that serenity arises from accepting that.

    Some would say that expressed this way, acceptance is surrendering to things that ought not to be acceptable. That’s it’s giving up. It isn’t. It’s understanding that most things, especially those involving other human beings, are beyond my control. I can either rage against injustice, real or imagined, or I can practice acceptance and move on.

    This doesn’t mean someone who has done me wrong is now right or that I forgive them. It just means that I probably can’t change their behaviour and so, again, I am left with either rage or acceptance. I prefer to choose acceptance. They’re still wrong; I’m just not going to let it take me down, too.

    I use the term “practice acceptance” advisedly. I am an imperfect human being, and I all too often fail to get it right. That’s where I still stand to acquire a great deal more wisdom.

    My daily commitment is to attend to all the things that are my responsibility to attend to on this day. With courage, if necessary, although few things in the lives of most of we privileged westerners requires much courage. If I do that, and accept all the things over which I have no control, then I will know genuine serenity in my life today.

    As for the God part, well, if we pray and there actually is no God, then who is listening? It’s enough for me to know that I’m listening.

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