Actually, it never was. Alcoholics Anonymous adopted the prayer attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr that is associated with the famous twelve step program.
I had always heard the prayer in relation to people summoning the strength the overcome alcohol or drug addiction. Since I didn’t taste alcohol until my mid 30s, and have only had a few tastes of it since then, the thought that the sentiment housed in that prayer could apply to me had never entered my mind.
Last year I was unemployed for nine months without unemployment benefits. There are few more drastic ways to take away a man’s power and meaning. As a Christian, I wondered how God could punish me after all we had risked to start a new church. The simplest jobs I applied for were given to others because, as it was explained to me, supervisors knew that I would leave as soon as something better would come along. They were right. I was trapped.
Then I read the Serenity Prayer again and realized it was for me too:
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.
I applied for hundreds of jobs and worked on skills that would make me more desirable as an employee, but I couldn’t make someone hire me. That’s when I was forced to take a back seat and let God pull me through after I had accepted the fact that I was powerless in the process. It seemed like ages later, but he did.
The second part of the prayer didn’t seem as hard for me. If something needs to be changed I have a hard time watching it stay the same. After all, that’s why I was unemployed to begin with. It has more to do with impatience than courage. Or, maybe courage for me means having the patience to make adjustments God’s way instead of mine. I’ve found that the Holy Spirit reveals fragments of a vision and I hurry to complete the puzzle instead of waiting for him to provide the rest of the pieces in his time.
I don’t know why Niebuhr wrote this prayer. But I do know this about his prayer: if you’re struggling in your Spiritual journey toward Jesus Christ, whether or not it’s related to substance abuse, a strong dose of powerlessness and God-awareness may be the remedy for you.
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7, NLT)