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4 Lessons From the Serenity Prayer

Dec 09, 2019 by

Reinhold Niebuhr, a Protestant theologian, was born in the late 1800s. He died in 1971, leaving behind a legacy of Christian writings on society, politics, and the nature and destiny of man.

The most enduring part of his written legacy may be the popular “Serenity Prayer,” which he wrote in 1942. Most of us recognize it immediately. It is a lovely prayer that asks God for peace, acceptance, courage, and wisdom in the cares of everyday life:

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.

It is actually the shortened form of his original prayer. Several versions exist, as Niebuhr used it in speaking engagements and in his personal writings without actually publishing it until 1951. It has since been adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous, and is now used in Twelve-Step programs and other organizations throughout the world.


Many people have found great solace and peace in praying the Serenity Prayer. It presents us with a simple, humble message, one that seems counter-cultural in today’s world. We live in a time of such anxiety and worry; serenity can be elusive. It’s no wonder the Serenity Prayer holds a message so appealing in our modern age.

What can we learn from this well-known prayer?

After spending time praying the Serenity Prayer this week, pondering its value and meaning, I have been considering what lessons and truths it holds for us in our relationship to God, others, and the events and cares of everyday life.

There are four lessons within the Serenity Prayer that speak to me in a powerful way.

1. We should strive to be docile to God the Father.

God the Father

The Serenity Prayer reveals an important truth for us: when we are docile to the will of our Heavenly Father, He can grant us serenity in any circumstance. When we embrace the will of God, regardless of what it is, He works in us to bring about peace and bestow the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit. It is only in this docility that we are able to find true peace. Serenity does not come from struggling interiorly against God’s will, but from embracing it and allowing Him to sustain us within it.

If He asks something of us, He will also provide us with what we need to persevere in it. But we must be docile before Him, so He can work in us. This can take time—and great patience—but it all starts with our own docility.

2. Only by accepting God’s will in our lives can we receive the grace of true serenity.


No matter what the world claims to be the source of true happiness, we already know as followers of Christ. It is when we stay fixed on Him and His most holy will—surrendering and embracing whatever that brings—that we receive true serenity. We can spend a lifetime rejecting that truth, but it is the truth, nonetheless, and we will never have true peace until we recognize and embrace it.

It is human nature to fear situations that cause us suffering. Suffering is frightening, especially when the world teaches that it is always undesirable. The world does not acknowledge the value of redemptive suffering. We all confront hardships during our lifetimes, and these hardships have divine purpose in Christ.


We can transcend these difficulties when we accept and embrace His will for our lives. By doing so, we display a trust and obedience that pleases God and opens our hearts, so that He can work within us. We are able to grow in virtue; we receive the gifts He has in store for us. As we exercise trust in God, it becomes easier to continue trusting.

Of course, accepting God’s will is often easier said than done. Surrender can be incredibly painful and difficult, but hardships are a pathway to sanctity, and surrender to God’s will is the road that will take us there in peace.

3. We must recognize our own need to change and to grow.

Pondering one's relationship with God

The Serenity Prayer speaks of the courage required to change what we can. That often includes changing ourselves.

But it also takes courage to accept what is unchangeable for us in a given situation. Everything is possible for God, but there are many difficult and tragic things in this life over which we have no control. These things do not belong to us. They belong to the Lord Jesus, who died in order to bear them for us.

When we entrust these burdens to Him completely, it inflames His heart with love. In order to give Him our cares, we must accept that we cannot change some things. This is not feeble or weak. It takes strength and courage to step out in faith and give our greatest cares completely to God. It is not “doing nothing.” It is doing what we were made to do.


We are impatient creatures. And the world encourages us to be self-sustaining. We are confident in our abilities, even prideful, sometimes. We care about others so much that we feel responsible for making a difference in their problems. For these reasons and others, we assume we can be the “fixers.”

In truth, we are not meant to solve every one of our own problems, and we are certainly not meant to solve all of the real or perceived problems of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Some problems are so complex that we simply cannot enter into them except through prayer and sacrifice. After that, we must leave them to Divine Intervention.

We ourselves must have the courage to change in order to receive the gift of serenity. This involves detaching from the desire to control people, situations, and events. We do not have control over this life. Not even over our own. Complete control belongs only to the Most High God. We do have control over our own behavior, and over our response to people and events. But we do not have control over the people or events themselves.

This desire to control is a mindset that steals our peace. It leads to the opposite of serenity. It is a disturbance and inner turmoil that can separate us from God. We must give those things to Christ, allowing Him to enter into them, so as to bring about His will. Then we must learn to get out of the way.

4. With wisdom comes discernment; with discernment, understanding.

Prayerful reading of Scripture

There is great wisdom in understanding who God is, and who we are. We do not have all the answers. We are not meant to. We do not need to. We are not God.

Do we know better than God?

Do we think He cannot enter into any situation, at any moment, and change it more radically than we could ever imagine?

In our anxiety, despair, fear, and disappointment, we forget these things. Of course we know He is present, He is all-powerful. He is also working, even in ways and times when we are not aware. He wants only our good, for He is our Tender, Heavenly Father. We can entrust every care to Him. He wants us to do it. He made us to do it. He waits for us to do it.

We do not need to know the future. I wouldn’t want to. Would you?! It is enough for us to know that God is already ordering tomorrow for our good.

So many unforeseen tragedies can befall us in this life. We do not see good in these, yet we cannot see with the eyes of God. This is one reason why an act of surrender requires such courage. When God grants us the wisdom to understand His role in the difficult situations of our lives, we will be able to properly discern when to step back and let go. We will see what is ours to do and what is His. We will also feel the relief, liberation, and serenity that come from trusting God completely.

The Serenity Prayer: A Reminder to Abandon Ourselves and Our Problems to God

Worry and anxiety are so common in our world today. They steal our peace and cause us to fear what lies ahead. The Lord does not want us to be burdened with worries. He tells us that repeatedly in Sacred Scripture. He wants us to cast our cares upon Him, and then be at peace.

The best way to open ourselves to that serenity is to be docile before Him, embrace His will in our lives, and have the strength and courage to change ourselves in the process. By detaching ourselves from our desire to control things, we can surrender them to God.

Silent prayer

Surrendering everything to God is difficult at times, but we don’t need to fear tomorrow. He wants us to remain in today. God is the Eternal Now. He is in the present with us, this very moment, waiting for us to abandon ourselves to Him.

When we do, He will act in our lives, and grant us the serenity that is the subject of the well-loved prayer.

Here is the longer version:

The Serenity 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.
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.

—Reinhold Niebuhr

Are you struggling with a burden that you know you need to give to the Lord?

Have you given it to Him, then taken it back, over and over again? I have done the same thing myself many times.

Jesus is waiting to receive it, and to give you the serenity that can only come from abandoning ourselves and our cares to Him. The Serenity Prayer is a beautiful, humble and simple way to ask for what you need, to unburden yourself, and to allow Christ to take on your cares and anxieties, then leave you with His peace.

Do you have a story about a time when the Serenity Prayer made a difference in your life?

Does the Serenity Prayer speak to you in your life today?

Please share with us in the comments section!

There is much wisdom to be found in the Serenity Prayer.