“God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed…”
The very first line of this version of the prayer represents the most significant difference between this one and the more popular versions used by most of today’s Twelve-step recovery groups. The more popular version reads, “God, grant me the serenity“, instead of, “God, give me grace“. To some, perhaps this is a subtle difference, amounting to nothing of substance.
But here’s the not-so-subtle difference in my mind. Serenity is an attitude, while grace is the essence of what we need in order to produce a state of serenity. Without grace, we humans aren’t likely to see beyond our own limited, fallen perspective. Instead, we might endlessly struggle to make things turn out the way we think they need to be, without a higher and more objective perspective.
True serenity can only come from possessing abundant grace, and such grace only comes as a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9). We don’t have this innately within ourselves as humans, but it is a natural byproduct of being fully surrendered to God. The more fully we are surrendered, the more “naturally” (supernaturally, really) we will be in a state of serenity. Grace is the substance which enables us to respond peacefully to our environment; serenity is the internal attitude and emotional state that results.
What we need, then, is his grace. When we have it, we can “let go and let God” take care of things in ways only he can. In so doing, we accept the Divine perspective on our lives and in our circumstances — including those circumstances that “cannot be changed”. Such abandon to God is the only way we come to “accept with serenity”.
In doing so, we aren’t required call our circumstances “good”. But our good Heavenly Father does work even the bitter circumstances for our good and for his glory (Romans 8:28), sometimes in ways we can see and sometimes in ways we cannot (Hebrews 11:1). The more we see him at work in our lives, the more we come to realize that in both his seen and unseen ways, there is a grace to accept the things that cannot be changed. When we come to know that God is actively superintending them for our good, the natural byproduct of that grace is a peace of mind in the midst of the storm, or what the author calls serenity.
Coming to “accept the things that cannot be changed” is sometimes a long and grueling process. But long or short, most of us don’t let go until we hear a still, small voice that we trust saying, “let it go”. The pathway of such acceptance often travels through the valley of grief, where God’s grace shepherds us like a faithful sheepdog (Psalm 23). Our surrender allows us to be led by grace through our grief and into acceptance, where we we can embrace our reality with serenity.
But what happens when we encounter a circumstance for which we’re convinced the Lord would have us serve as agents of change? More on that next time.