by Nick Gromicko
The Serenity Prayer is often misquoted. For example, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) misstates it like this:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
AA's incorrect version makes no sense.
Why would you need serenity to accept only the things you cannot change? Instead, wouldn't you need serenity to accept everything that cannot be changed? Furthermore, God making you serene enough so that you'll accept something isn't really accepting it willingly. He might as well just make you drunk enough to accept it. Instead, God might give you the grace to accept something calmly. That would be a more reasonable request of God. And it would put the burden on you to keep your head.
Also, changing things just for the sake of change isn't necessarily good. Hitler changed things. He changed peace into horror. Instead, wouldn't you rather change the things you should change? Furthermore, if you already can change something that needs to be changed, do you really need to pray for the courage to? Just do it! A slave owner in the 1800s didn't need much courage to free his slaves, but he'd need lots of courage to help end slavery. That would require some courage to pray for. Changing just the things you can requires little courage.
And, finally, do you really want God to give you the wisdom to instantly know the difference between the two without having to think about it? I don't think God is going to grant that wish. That's too easy and would allow you to blame Him for not having the wisdom. You're not a robot. Instead, God might give you enough wisdom to use to distinguish one from the other. "Giving wisdom to know" puts the burden on God to give you knowledge. Conversely, having the wisdom to use as a tool "to distinguish" puts the burden on you, where it belongs, to figure it out. The words "grant" and "distinguish" are verbs. God does one and you do the other.
Beating addiction requires a partnership between you and God. You aren't alone, but you also can't expect your partner to do all the work.
The Serenity Prayer was written by Reinhold Niebuhr. Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr was an American theologian, ethicist, intellectual, commentator on politics and public affairs, and professor at Union Theological Seminary for more than 30 years.
This is the original (true) Serenity Prayer:
- God, give me grace to accept with serenity
- the things that cannot be changed,
- Courage to change the things
- which should be changed,
- and the Wisdom to distinguish
- the one from the other.
It was written by Dr. Reinhold Neibuhr of Union Theological Seminary who
used it as the ending to a longer prayer in 1932. It was included in
the "Way of Light," a manual of praise, prayers and meditations compiled
by Robbins Howard Chandler.
So where did AA's version come from? Bill
Wilson, co-founder of AA found the misquoted version in an obituary in
the New York Herald Tribune and copied it word for word. It has been misquoted by AA ever since.
I suppose AA can call their misquoted prayer "The Serenity Prayer" if they want to. I suppose they can call it "The Gettysburg Address" too. But it is neither. The real Serenity Prayer has a totally different meaning. So, the next time you're at an AA meeting, have the courage to change the things that should be changed, including AA's misquote of the Serenity Prayer.