The Serenity Prayer and the Meaning of TRUE Acceptance


The Serenity Prayer and the Meaning of TRUE Acceptance

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.”

~ theologian Reinhold Niebuhr

Recovery and 12-Step Fellowship Meetings around the world often begin in the same way – with the assembled group reciting the Serenity Prayer together. Early on in rehab, newly-sober addicts and alcoholics are taught to recite this prayer whenever they feel overwhelmed or tempted.

But what do these words – serenity, acceptance, courage, and wisdom really MEAN?

Let’s take a closer look at each.

“Get the help you need today. We offer outpatient assistance, so you can maintain your work, family, and life commitments while getting the help you deserve!”

Serenity Refers to Inner Peace

Serenity Refers to Inner Peace

Addiction is characterized by chaos, loss of control, and emotional turmoil.

Serenity, on the other hand, is a positive state of mind where you are untroubled by life’s ups and downs. It means remaining calm and true to yourself, regardless of what else is going on.

Some would even say that serenity is the goal of recovery.

Acceptance Refers to Taking What is Offered

Acceptance Refers to Taking What is Offered

Another characteristic of addiction is denial – refusing to believe what is plainly evident. Denial is an extension of our own stubborn egos – a futile attempt to reject what IS to chase after what we DESIRE.

In recovery, an example of this would be trying to control our consumption of drugs or alcohol when the very definition of addiction is that we have no such power.

Acceptance, on the other hand, means making the best of what we have. It means realizing the reality of what life has given us – genes predisposed to addiction, a difficult childhood, everyday stress, etc. – and still working with what we have been given to live the best life we possibly can.

Courage Refers to Mastering Our Fear

Courage Refers to Mastering Our Fear

There is an old acronym in recovery that signifies what “fear” is – False Evidence Appearing Real, meaning that another characteristic of addiction is being controlled by distorted or untrue perceptions about ourselves, our own value as human beings, our disease of addiction, and our ability to get better.

Because of these invalid perceptions, we react in unhealthy, self-destructive ways. We drink and use to cover up our own feelings of inadequacy, unworthiness, and shame.

Courage, on the other hand, means reacting and moving forward positively, even when we feel negative – doing the right thing, even when we are unsure. Courage doesn’t mean that we have NO fear, it means that we refuse to be ruled by it.

Courage during recovery can take many forms:

  • Honesty – even when the truth is uncomfortable
  • Fortitude – even when doing the right thing is hard
  • Perseverance – even in the face of obstacles
  • Faith – even when we feel like giving up
  • Willingness to change – even when we are unsure

“We treat both addiction and co-occurring disorders and accept many health insurance plans. Take a look at our outpatient program today!”

Wisdom Refers to Learning from Your Mistakes

Addiction can be likened to a form of insanity. Some people define insanity as doing the same thing again and again, yet expecting different results.

For example, you may tell yourself for the umpteenth time that THIS time it’s going to be different – you’re only going to have a few beers instead of getting drunk… or you’re only going to get high on the weekends…or you REALLY mean it this time – you’re just going to muster your willpower and quit.

All the things you’ve said before.

Wisdom, on the other hand, means recognizing when something doesn’t work and being willing to try something else. It means putting our ego and stubbornness aside in order to reach our goals.

Wisdom in recovery can be as simple as understanding that our old behaviors and attitudes tend to get us in trouble, so instead of doing what WE think is right, we take the advice of our doctors, therapists, or sponsors.

What Are Some Advantages of the Serenity Prayer?

“We accept many health insurance plans. You can get your life back in order with our outpatient program today!”

What Are Some Advantages of the Serenity Prayer?

By being mindful of the meaning behind the words of the Serenity Prayer, we gain a number of benefits:

  • We practice differentiating between those things we can and cannot control.
  • We learn to make the best of what we have and where we are in life.
  • We become empowered because we focus our time and energy on making real, positive changes.
  • We get out of our own way and stop sabotaging our own efforts.
  • We stop repeating the same mistakes.
  • We stay humble because we realize our human limitations.

Most of all, it becomes possible for us to rediscover happiness through acceptance. We can find the good in what IS and in what we CAN do, instead of focusing on the frustration of what we CAN’T do.

Full Infographic:

The Meaning of true Acceptance

May 23rd, 2019|12 Comments


  1. Ravikant May 6, 2019 at 5:12 am - Reply

    Nicely Explained ! Serenity Prayer ..

    • Ashwood Recovery May 15, 2019 at 5:47 pm - Reply

      Glad the article resonated with you! We wish you all the best!

  2. Victoria June 25, 2019 at 11:57 am - Reply

    Thank you very much for the explanation of the Serenity Prayer. It could not be better done. I am going to use this in a meeting right away.

    • Ashwood Recovery June 26, 2019 at 4:18 pm - Reply

      Glad the article resonated with you! We wish you all the best on your sober journey!

  3. Satish July 31, 2019 at 5:59 pm - Reply

    Very nicely explained the meaning of prayer.

    • Ashwood Recovery August 1, 2019 at 5:49 pm - Reply

      Glad you enjoyed the article!

  4. Rosey August 5, 2019 at 8:34 pm - Reply

    Thank you very much for this nice explanation. This is my favorite prayer. It says so much in a few lines

    • Ashwood Recovery August 6, 2019 at 10:50 pm - Reply

      Glad you enjoyed the article and the prayer. We wish you all the best!

  5. Katja2684 August 13, 2019 at 4:12 am - Reply

    This article is great. I started the Al-Anon meetings and this prayer always brings me peace. I especially like the interpretation of acceptance = stop denying ourselves. This is the phase I’m in
    : discovering again who I am after being sucked in an active alcoholic’s troubles.

    • Ashwood Recovery August 15, 2019 at 2:50 pm - Reply

      Glad the article resonated with you! We wish you all the best as you continue your recovery journey!

  6. Sandra C. Wilbanks August 20, 2019 at 4:58 pm - Reply

    Nicely put. I have heard, said it soo many times; but I felt something meaningful just reading it myself. I can imagine if I would have heard someone in a beautiful voice express the prayer that way. Thank you!

    • Ashwood Recovery August 21, 2019 at 5:04 pm - Reply

      Glad you enjoyed this article, we wish you all the best!

Leave A Comment

Call Now Button