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The Serenity Prayer

“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 Serenity Prayer

The Serenity Prayer’s AA History

The serenity prayer holds particular significance in the recovery community, especially in 12-Step groups. In fact, some refer to it as “the AA acceptance prayer“. 12-Step groups frequently recite it at the beginning of meetings, and, oftentimes, at the end as well. American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote the prayer sometime in 1932 or 1933.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) adopted the prayer in 1941 when a member saw it in The New York Tribune. He asked Ruth Hock, the AA secretary at the time, to determine if it would be possible to print distributable cards with the prayer for members. Hock wrote to an AA member in Washington, D.C. who was a printer. She sent him the newsclip, and asked what the cost would be to print some wallet-sized copies. The printer, so impressed by what the prayer captured, sent 500 cards for free. Since that moment the prayer has become a staple of the AA Program. The organization’s Founder Bill Wilson noted, “never had we seen so much A.A. in so few words.”

Why the Serenity Prayer is Difficult

There are a number of reasons for serenity being an abstract concept for someone struggling with a substance abuse disorder. Primarily this is due to the fact that people afflicted with an addiction frequently have an intense obsession to achieve complete control over their surroundings. This, of course, is something impossible for a person to achieve. 

In relation to addiction this obsession with control materializes on two levels. Level one, the effort to influence other people, becomes apparent in the frequent attempts at manipulation. Level two, the effort to influence your own feels and emotions through self-medication using drugs or alcohol. On both levels this strategy is destined to fail.

An addict becomes more miserable the longer they pursue absolute control, which paradoxically, leads to greater issues with substance abuse. We continue down this cyclical self-destructive path until we accept that difficulties will always arise in life and there will always be occurrences out of our realm of control or ability to change.

The Lesson’s of the Serenity Prayer

It is for precisely this reason that the Serenity Prayer is so powerful. After the prayer reminds us to accept the factors that are out of our control, we request the courage to address the factors we have the capacity to change. Once we turn our attention away from the factors we can’t control, focusing on those that we can, we begin to grow in our wisdom. The final quality promised in the Serenity Prayer.

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