Serenity Prayer: Wisdom

This week, Imagine Hope is discussing the Serenity Prayer and it's meaning.  So far, we have gone through serenity, courage and change.  Today we will discuss wisdom. The serenity prayer states "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;  courage to change the things I can;  and the wisdom to know the difference."  Sometimes, when life hands us unfortunate circumstances, we struggle with recognizing what IS and IS NOT in our power to change or control.  If we are unaware of what we don't have the power to change, trying to change those things can lead to a lot of frustration and feelings of helplessness.

Having the widsom of what we can and cannot change is a key part of feeling serenity and being at peace.  When we try and change things out of our control (like other people), we definitely can't have serenity... and it usually brings us the exact opposite of what we are hoping for!  Have you ever had someone try and control or change something about you?  How did you feel when that person tried to change you?  How did you respond to their attempts at trying to control or change you?  This usually doesn't feel very good to be on the receiving end of.  Our healthiest relationships are where we don't try to control or change the other person, but instead, share with them how we are feeling and what we are needing, and decide for ourselves what WE can change about ourselves to make the situation better.  Even then, it's up to the other person to decide whether or not it is something they are willing to change and it's up to us to decide what we are willing to do differently.

On the flip side, have you ever tried to change something or someone that didn't want to change?  How did it feel when you were trying to "make" them or the situation change?   Usually, this feels exhausting and frustrating-- and it rarely works.  If the person or situation changes, it isn't authentic-- it's coerced.  The other person ends up feeling manipulated and pushed into making changes, which hardly ever results in long term change.

One of the things we ask our clients in therapy is:  What are you doing or not doing that is allowing you to be in this situation?  This is a powerful example of gaining wisdom into what we can and cannot change.  At the end of the day, the only thing we can truly change is ourselves-- whether that means changing our reactions to others, changing how much power we give them over us, changing our boundaries with others and what we allow from them, or changing our own situation somehow.  Having the wisdom to know the difference means feeling empowered and taking responsibility for own lives and happiness.  Do you have the wisdom to know the difference between what you have the power to change and what you can't?

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;  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 hardships as the pathway to peace;  Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it;  Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will;  That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.  Amen." -Reinhold Niebuhr

Note:  The full version of the serenity prayer is shown above, though the most common use for the serenity prayer is the beginning portion, which we have highlighted in this weeks blog.   For more information on the history and meaning of the serenity prayer in it's entirety, go to

Joleen Watson, MS, LMFTA, NCC, is a therapist at Imagine Hope Counseling Group. She enjoys doing marriage counseling, infidelity counseling and helping couples heal from an affair, relationship counseling, couples counseling, and individual counseling.  Imagine Hope also specializes in family, child and adolescent counseling and serves Indianapolis area including the surrounding areas of Carmel, Noblesville, Zionsville, Westfield, and Fishers.