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The All-Purpose Prayer

Quilt artwork copyrighted to Mary Nyquist Koons

“God grant us the serenity
To accept the things we cannot change,
Courage to change the things we can;
And wisdom to know the difference.”

Serenity, Courage, Wisdom: The Serenity Prayer is a simple plea for acceptance and action that generates wisdom in how we live our lives. The prayer is widely used in 12-step programs and is imprinted on 12-step coins.

But did you know there’s more to it than that? The version popularized in recovery culture and cross-stitch samplers alike is actually just one piece of a larger prayer.

The full prayer goes:

God, give me 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 prayer, crafted by the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, expounds beautifully on the practice of practicing acceptance while cultivating peace. The ingredients listed are:

-Mindfulness and Presence: Enjoying one moment at a time

-Changing Perspective: Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace

-Letting Go of Expectations: Taking this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it

-Trust: You will make all things right 

Be present, have an open mind, let go of your old ideas and believe all will be well. These things are easier said than done, which is why the Serenity Prayer is best approached as a practice. Practice pausing, sorting through ideas and feelings and discarding the old and unuseful ones to make room for new ways of thinking and acting. Just the pause itself can solve a world of problems: take a deep breath and say the prayer to yourself quietly. It’s amazing what a couple of deep breaths and 10 seconds of pause can do.

Reinhold’s prayer assumes the belief in God — which might make this feel inaccessible to those who are atheist or agnostic. Even the abbreviated version starts with the ask “God, grant me the Serenity…”

Remember this is your practice. You can try on the idea of a Higher Power or you can turn the word God into an acronym, such as: Good Orderly Direction or Group of Drunks.

You may try some research to help you develop a spiritual view that works. Just this month the AA Grapevine published a new book, One Big Tent, that’s filled with stories of the atheists, agnostics, nonbelievers and secular alcoholics who created a program of recovery that’s worked.

In the meantime, keep practicing your pause while using Reinhold’s words as a prayer, a mantra, a distraction or even a set of instructions to follow in the moment you need peace.




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