In 1934, Reinhold Niebuhr wrote a remarkable prayer; a prayer began the sermons Niebuhr preached. As the decades passed, the popularity of this prayer grew. It could be could be found on drugstore cards. In the early 1940’s, Alcoholics Anonymous incorporated Niebuhr’s prayer into their twelve step program:
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.
Niebuhr’s prayer describes our human condition. There are those things to which we simply must adjust, like floods, personal illness, or the death of a loved one. No matter how much power we exert, or how much control we have, life cannot be changed. We must learn to live with and accept a given reality. Futility is attempting to change what cannot be changed. We must learn to grieve and cope.
And yet, there are also times when our influence makes a difference. These are moments in which the actions we take, or do not take, will have a profound impact on the outcome. This can be as simple as removing a small splinter from a child’s finger to confronting the school bully. What we do makes a difference, and making that difference takes courage.
How do we know if we should accept, or act? Niebuhr places these two realities of life within the context of wisdom. At times it is difficult to know what is right. Can my actions make a difference, or am I wasting my energy? Is this something I need to fight for, or accept? Wisdom is the gift of knowing where to place our energy. We can stop trying to control those things we cannot control and face the things we need to change. Wisdom grants us peacefulness and serenity.
Recite this prayer as often as you like, and when your life is in turmoil. It can change your mindset. You will experience the grace, courage, and wisdom, that takes your heart into a peaceful place and grants serenity.