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

Reinhold Niebuhr

The Serenity Prayer was written by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr around 1932 [1].

This prayer is the cornerstone of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and many other 12-step programs that help people overcome addictive behavior.

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Firstly, it’s important to note that the word “God” – which may have originally been intended as a Christian call to one’s creator – is no longer intended as such. Since many people come to AA (and similar programs) with a faith-deficit, the programs advise people to think of “God” as whatever they believe in. It may be a teapot for all anyone cares. The ideas associated with “God” should not get in the way of a person’s ability to embrace this prayer. That’s the most important takeaway when AA instructs to think of “God” as whatever you personally believe in as your higher power.


The reason why this is the universal prayer of addicts is because when someone gets this message wrong, that wrong thinking (what AA calls “stinking thinking“) is a major factor in their behavior of becoming an addict, or continuing to be an addict.

Get your thoughts straight and you can avoid going down that path toward addiction.

When someone believes that they can control circumstances that they are not actually in control of, that kind of anxiety is enough to drive them to addiction.

By the same token, believing that circumstances within our control are actually someone else’s responsibility — well, that can drive a person to addiction too. In this mindset, we can spend a lifetime blaming others for mistakes we ourselves chose to make.

There have been times in my life when a crisis hit. I was so filled with dread that I thought I might explode from all the negative feelings inside of me. And then I would remember the Serenity Prayer.

It was something displayed on the walls of our family home when I was a child. Both my parents had struggled with addiction. One died from overdose and the other parent joined AA, whereupon I learned this prayer and other valuable coping tools.

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It was the memory of this prayer on the wall that would save me in times of extreme crisis. It helped me put things into perspective. It helped me to reframe the situation and evaluate whether or not I was in control of the outcome.

If it was within my control, then I would set out to fix whatever was broken. And if it wasn’t in my control, then I would settle in with some old-fashioned “self care” and soothe myself in ways that were healthy (rather than relying on addictive substances to bury the feelings). All the while, trying to develop acceptance of the situation.

I share this prayer in the hopes that maybe one day it will help you cope when it matters most. Be well. Namasté

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