Living the Serenity Prayer


Published on: Thursday May 7 2020, 3:00 pm

Living the Serenity Prayer – a reflection on calm and handling change

These are strange and challenging times, and in many ways very troubling because they are so far from what we are used to as our normal daily lives. We used to be able to go out and about we are all stuck at home. We miss our friends from school and work, and we are having to get used to a whole new way of doing things.

In all of this, trying to stay calm and focused, keeping a balance within ourselves, is probably one of the most important things we can do. For those who have faith, taking time to pray has never been more important. What I have found of great encouragement myself is the news that so many people who would not describe themselves as having faith particularly have turned to prayer in these past weeks and have found great comfort in doing so.

At the Buckland School Governors meeting yesterday evening, the Head Teacher Mrs Warren spoke of the serenity prayer which many of you will have heard before and it inspired me to write this short piece to go out with the weekly newsletter.

The Serenity Prayer is a prayer written around 1932-33 by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971). It is commonly quoted as:

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 originally asked for courage first, and specifically for changing things that must be changed, not things that simply can be changed:

Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.  

It’s so easy to see the world around us and to feel completely overwhelmed by all the things which we just feel are too big and which press in upon us. We can’t change them, and even to try is an overwhelming task. Greta Thunberg wrote a small pamphlet entitled ‘No One is Too Small to make a Difference’ and certainly she has made that very true.

Many of the greatest wisdom teachers over the past centuries have noted that in truth, the only thing we can really change in this world is ourselves and our reactions. Sometimes we are blessed enough to be able to change the situation we find ourselves in, but we certainly can’t change anyone else, and a lot of the time changing the situation is beyond us as well.

But what we can change, and what we always have power over, is ourselves and our reactions. We can change how we respond, how we act, and how we interact – with people and with the situation we find ourselves in.

Einstein famously said that you cannot solve the problem with the same level of thinking that created it. When we are struggling with something – and when I was at school for me it was always my maths homework – simply ploughing on in the same old way only caused more frustration and stress. It was only when I tried a different approach, usually after a short break and with a fresh mind, that I was able to achieve anything. And sometimes I needed to ask for help from somebody else to see the problem from a different angle.

Even though the lockdown due to coronavirus is due to ease shortly, life is not going to simply go back to what it used to be three months ago. We going to have to continue to adapt, to do things differently, and it’s going to be hard and stressful. But maybe we can make it a little bit less stressful if we keep in mind Niebuhr’s prayer, which has had many variations over the years.

I offer you this as my personal variant on the original, as it reminds me always that if I want to change anything in life, that change has to begin with myself.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know that the change is in me.

With love, light and peace, 

Revd. Talisker