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How I Made Peace with the Serenity Prayer

still-watersYesterday I wrote about the role of acceptance in finding joy as we discussed Margaret Feinberg’s book, Fight Back with Joy.

As I continued pondering and praying on this subject, I remembered the famous “serenity prayer.” You probably know the one I mean,

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.

Can I make a confession? I used to hate that prayer.

Maybe “hate” is a strong word, but I thought it was ridiculous. Why would you ever accept anything as unchangeable other than God? If there are situations that are a problem, why would you accept them? Isn’t that just giving up?

These types of thoughts were my norm 15+ years ago, but as we all know, it’s amazing how a few years will give you a different perspective.

Acceptance doesn’t mean giving up. It doesn’t mean you lack faith. It doesn’t mean you’re married to the pain. But these are lies we often believe.

Sometimes things may not be changeable right now but will be in the future. Other times, it may be a permanent change. Living in denial about whatever type of restriction is there will not breed hope. It will produce the opposite: anxiety, fear, and oppression.

A lack of acceptance is ultimately rooted in fear.

It’s like the little child who plops himself down in a room full of people and thinks no one can see him when he closes his eyes. If I don’t look at the pain, I don’t have to feel it. If only that were true.

You may not feel it in an honest way, but you will express it in a whole host of other ways.

  • Strained relationships
  • Sinful behavior
  • Sleeplessness
  • Worry

I know all these through firsthand experience.

I think of the arrogance with which I objected to this prayer. I would think it was because God can change anything (which is true), but in reality, I thought I could pray enough or have enough faith or do enough… I would stubbornly hold on and push it through.

Serenity means “the state of being peaceful, calm, untroubled.”

Accepting the people in your life you can’t change, the behavior you can’t get past, the job you lost, the relationships you had to let go, the hard financial situation in which you find yourself–it’s not about settling into despair. It’s about moving forward in trust.

Trying to fight for something you can’t change won’t produce peace. Living in terrible conditions you do have some control over won’t either. You need God to help you see the difference, and that’s a need that will never go away.

You may not want to face the reality, but He will help you. When you can humbly accept what’s there, you will indeed find grace (1 Peter 5:5).

Yes, it’s painful at times and it’s okay to lament and wonder and question. It’s not always easy, but your Father is there–Lord over the tears, Lord of the process.

What do you think? Do you identify with this prayer? Have you always felt that way? Why or why not?


  1. This was my mother’s favorite prayer. My sister printed it over one of my photos and hung it in Mom’s hospice room.
    Sandra Heska King recently posted..One Word Less For Lent 2015 -- 33My Profile

    • That’s awesome, Sandra. It’s actually been one of my wife’s favorite prayers as well. I only recently told her how much I didn’t used to like it. 🙂 Thank you, Sandra.

  2. I used to drive myself bonkers trying to control, well, everything. My perfectionism pushed me to try and make everything exactly how I thought it should be, especially myself. As you might guess, this was frustrating and infuriating. When I realized that there are just some things I cannot change, and I learned to accept this, I was able to experience peace. It was about letting go of what emotions/feelings told me and to instead operate on God’s truth. That’s just how I process the point you’re making.
    Kari Scare recently posted..The Way Things AppearMy Profile

    • Feelings lined up with truth--wonderful. Feelings not lined up with truth--detrimental. Have to let them go, like you said. I’m with you, Kari! Thank you.

  3. I absolutely love that prayer. The reason I do is because we do have to ask God to help us daily accept the things we cannot change. WE (humans) try to take on so much on our own and its only because of our limited sight and lack of BIG faith.
    Lincoln Parks recently posted..Entrepreneurship, God & LifeMy Profile

    • So true! We just aren’t built for carrying it all (no matter what we think). He’s the only One big enough, great enough, kind enough, and loving enough to fulfill His perfect word. Thank you, Lincoln.

  4. I’ve loved this prayer for years. It has certainly seen me through some troubling and traumatic times as it reminds me so clearly to leave what I cannot change in God’s hands. Blessings, Jason!
    Martha Orlando recently posted..Think About Such ThingsMy Profile

    • It’s a very succinct and directing prayer--so rich in its application and truth. Thank you, Martha! Blessings to you too.

  5. For a long time I despised this prayer. I’m not sure if you know there is another part that is really worth checking out.

    These words, in particular, seemed so passive to me once upon a time.

    I think that I had some “bad theology” and thought that I could manipulate God with my prayers by adding intensity and frequency. Ugh.

    A few years ago when a very closed love one was in a very bad place due to substance abuse issues I realized that while my prayers were needed that the ability to “change” the situation or them was beyond my control. It scared me to death.

    It also made me realize that my trust in God wasn’t where it needed to be. So, I’ve been challenged to grow in that area of my life. I’ve got to tell you it’s been very painful.

    I don’t feel that prior to this situation that I realize just how much of a “control freak” I was. But when your own child is basically self-destructing right in front of your face. Well let’s just say I learned a lot about both of us.

    How interesting that they often use this prayer in recovery. Ha! I think I’ve been recovering from being a “control freak.” As time passes I covet being “peaceful, calm, and untroubled.”

    This has meant letting go of a lot of things and God has been showing me what is within my control and what is within His when I open my eyes long enough to see.

    Mostly how I respond to what life presents seems to be within my control. The rest seems to be way past me.

    Thanks for sharing this.
    Melinda Lancaster recently posted..What Happened When Termites Ate My MementosMy Profile

    • First off, I can’t imagine the heartbreak of that. We all do our best, but then people make choices we have no control over. Secondly, I’m glad I’m not the only one who used to hate this prayer! I was starting to think maybe I was the only one. 🙂

      Our reactions to what happens to us or those we love--that’s all we get. How good is our God to give us the Holy Spirit who adds self-control as part of the fruit and evidence of His work in our lives? Thank you so much, Melinda.

  6. I’ve always loved that prayer! Although, I admit I thought my will and prayer might change God’s mind or will even though I knew zero about what was best… still don’t.

    Paul’s prayer about being content in beatings, shipwrecks, imprisonment, and all sorts of tribulation, came to mind as I was reading this. That kinda puts it all in perspective…

    • True--we don’t know what’s best and we don’t know how He’s working things. Sometimes it means things may get “worse” before they get better for us. Trusting Him leads to contentment as you mentioned with Paul. Thanks Floyd.

  7. As a child I saw this prayer first hanging on the wall in my Grandma’s home. It didn’t mean much then but as my life unravelled it would pop up from time to time and I sensed the Lord was wanting me to rest in trust. Not to fight against circumstances but to lean back into HIs strength and trust His ability and willingness to perfect all those things in life that concern me. He has been showing me how to change/submit my nature to Him so He is able to transform me. Even in the submitting there is the need to rest in trust knowing He will be faithful!
    Jeannie Pallett recently posted..Why I am not Giving Up Anything for LentMy Profile

    • Amen. Rest is huge, and it’s only found in Him. What a beautiful thing it is to trust Him! Thanks Jeannie.

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