Serenity Now

If I had a nickel for every time the serenity prayer saved my ass, I could buy a pizza from Dominoes.

If I had a nickel for every time that I could have used the serenity prayer to save my ass but didn’t think to use it, I could take every reader of this blog out to a steak dinner (prices and participation may vary).

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.”

Fun fact: while the origins of the prayer are disrupted, most attribute it to the religious philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr. In fact, his daughter, Elisabeth Sifton, wrote a book called The Serenity Prayer that dates the prayer to a sermon Niebuhr delivered in 1943.

The serenity prayer saved me again this week. And I’ll get to that. But first, I had to ask myself: why do I neglect this cure-all prayer, widely accepted as emblematic of all 12-step programs?

 

One reason is because saying a prayer by rote diminishes its meaning.

I should rephrase that. The meaning of the prayer doesn’t diminish, only my inkling to use it. Rote prayers, like chores or other responsibilities, slowly become the things we need to do rather than the things we want to do.

Do you remember the first time the serenity prayer, in its simplistic genius, struck you to the core?

I was living in Portland when it first hit me, newly sober, working a night shift at a convenience store. At a meeting—I went to them daily—someone was sharing about the freedom he had recently experienced: the freedom from worrying about other people’s opinion of him. He said he could not control what other people thought of him. And, the serenity prayer took away that worry.

Take away the obsession to control what other people think of you—EUREKA!

It’s well summarized in the oft-quoted phrase: “What other people think of me is none of my business.” Now I don’t know about you, but this was straight revelation in my early sobriety. This was awe-struck contemplation of the heavens stuff—sitting there, a styrofoam cup of cheap coffee in my hand. In that moment, I couldn’t imagine a more liberating notion.

See, I used to care a good deal about what other people thought of me. In fact, if my daily thoughts were put into a pie chart, the portion of time I spent either worrying about other people’s opinions or trying to control those opinions would represent a pac-man sized portion of the circle. And much like the gaming character, those thoughts were fueled by an endless hunger and they would rush in all directions, often awkwardly, bumping into walls and chased by ghosts.

While writing this pac-man analogy caused me to go play a few rounds in nostalgia, it is the serenity prayer that saves me from caring what you think about my 80s Arcade game obsession. And that’s freedom.

The sort of freedom that fundamentally transformed my life, in fact.

 

 

The famous quotes and memes that, like the serenity prayer, get shared on social media like gangbusters, do hold the capacity to change lives for the better.

And, if you’re changing lives for the better, you are changing the world for the better. There is no escaping this logic. I believe the world is changed more often by the small gestures of people in their communities than by the sweeping policy of governments, for example. But I digress. Welcome to the miracle of the mundane—my digressions from ordinary life.

The point is, my life changed in a revolutionary way when I stopped caring what other people thought of me. I went from a role player to the star of my own life. Living according to other people’s standards or expectations is no way to live. What’s more, we aren’t actually living by their standards or expectations, but by what we perceive as their standards or expectations, turning our lives into poorly produced shows that won’t ever find their intended audiences.

I recall telling many versions of how I broke my jaw, for example. In my defense, it was in a blackout. I had a blank slate of possibilities to tell and spin to people. To my parents, I played the victim: “I got jumped.” To the girl I was trying to attract at the office, I played the tough guy: “Broke it in a scrap.” To my friends, I played the party animal: “What a night!” The version I told each person reflected the person I wanted them to think I was. I recall times having to leave a room because two people were in it that had different versions of me on their mind. It was insane. And so was I.

Life is much simpler when I am one man, united in his identity. This same man, the sober me, can go anywhere and be with anyone without changing according to some falsified precept of what other people want him to be. It is the truest freedom I’ve ever experienced.

 

So, how did the serenity prayer dig me out of the latest trap?

I will spare you the details of how I got there. I imagine you’ve been there before yourself. It involves social media, a cyberspace where we consistently promote the best version of ourselves and our thoughts.

We are living in a world riddled with anxiety over what other people think. That anxiety draws us back to our screens—in their many forms—to check on what other people think of us. It causes us to only broadcast certain versions of who we’d like to be, then gives us the freedom to see what other people think of that version we chose to broadcast. It’s crazy.

Social media use, gone unchecked, in my experience, leads me back into the craziest states of mind I’ve ever known in the click of a button. There is a virtual tornado of stress and anxiety out there for our socially-worrisome minds to contend with. Left to our own devices—staring at our own devices—is a one way ticket there.

And I wanted to share with you that, just this week, the serenity prayer rescued my mind. God restored me to sanity, once more.

 

 


For more posts on slogans and prayers or cliches that hold deeper meaning than our habits give them credit for, read more posts from The Slogan Series, click here.

 

26 Responses to “Serenity Now

  • Excellent! As always, you are right on! I recently also did a post about the serenity prayer.
    https://fearlessinjesuschrist.wordpress.com/2017/05/05/lifestyle-daily-prompt/

  • Marilyn L. Davis
    2 months ago

    Hi, Mark. I have to confess, The Serenity Prayersaved me from myself this week, too. And like you, it profoundly altered my thinking the first time I heard it spoken in 1988. At my first meeting place, the group began each meeting with this. I stood, supported by the joined hands of others just like me. While I couldn’t repeat the prayer, all of those 30+ voices gave me comfort. But also like you, I sometimes forget to remember the various meanings of the prayer. Thanks for your timely reminder. Well done.

  • Love this, “if you’re changing lives for the better, you are changing the world for the better. ” I, too, have been saved by the graces of the Serenity Prayer many times. I often joke that I would like to tattoo it to the inside of my arm. Your message about the hectic state created by reliance on social media is spot on. I have started the practice of leaving my phone behind when spending quality time with friends and family or trying to complete a tough task and turning off my notifications all the time. It makes my notifications a cool surprise when I do check them. 🙂

    • I’m happy to have those ‘push’ notifications off. Like you, I enjoy seeing what comes up when I log in. But, I’d hate to see constant updates of what’s happening. That would be a really unhealthy place for me to be. Thanks Melanie!

  • Great post. Love the Pac Man analogy.

    I think I fear doing these things by rote too. I wake up and mumble the 3rd and 7th step prayers. Sometimes they get interrupted by the committee in my head, other times I forget the words. Meh. But I guess the intention behind them in the key. They say that even thinking about praying is a prayer in itself. Intention. And in that regard, when I sometimes start popping those serenity prayers, I may be mindless in the wording, but I am seeking something. And like you, sometimes it’s just comforting, and other times – mind. blown.

    I can agree that now and then, the simplicity of it catches me off guard and then when it really applies, it really applies. And I am thankful for that.

    I can also relate to the different spins thing – I have written on that before, but I want to be in a place where no matter who you talk to about me, you get the same answer. I used to project different things to different people and no one knew the real me.

    As for social media – well we’ve talked about that I think. It caused me much inner turmoil, to be honest. These days, or at least the last year or so, it’s been much better. I am surprising myself how little I care about certain things about social media. I am comfortable with my IG, and I rarely hit FB, and Twitter is my jam, and even then I don’t get into the comparison game much. There is freedom in me just being me and not feeling like I have to project anything.

    Thanks for this, Mark. Loved it. You rock.

    Paul

    • Thanks Paul. I always appreciate the thought you put into your responses. It’s like we’re having a phone conversation in the comments–it’s really cool.

      I think we’ve helped each other a lot in this area. Or, at least, I can write that I know you have helped me. Facebook is the hardest for me. Twitter is most addictive. I’m thankful for that because, like you, it does the least harm.

      I’m glad you can relate to the versions of yourself you show. This was one of those posts that I just sort of went where the next thought took me, not knowing where I’d end up. But, when it ended up being about social media, it made good sense to me.

      Anyway, I’d like to add that I got your email, and I’m marinating a reply.

      Mark

  • Hi Mark!
    Boy I sure get the comparison thing.
    And I just this week I got so anxious and “hurt” about a FB post.
    I am learning, however, and I have made strides to detach, and to learn to love the life I am making.
    It’s hard to separate myself from other people.
    I have learned I will not be in everyone’s quality world.
    And in reality, I can only support a few good friends.
    Social media has also made me more distracted, even in my reading.
    I am reading less books, and when I read, I find myself hurrying.
    xo
    Wendy
    PS – of course I will like your posts on FB!! Lol

    • Wendy! You’re such a great supporter, thank you! One of those, it’s not you, it’s me things.

      It is such a distraction. I’m trying to abstain more from using social media. It is having really good effects on my mind and my life.

  • I love love love the serenity prayer. It’s my binky. I go there sometimes mindlessly and sometimes purposefully but always with warm fuzzies in return.

    Well done, Mark!

    ThankYou for all you do!
    Susan R.

    • Thanks Susan! Always good to hear from you. WarmFuzzies! I love it! Haven’t heard that term for a while. I’m feeling it today, though. And it’s been a while.

  • This post was perfectly timed for me, just what I needed to read. Thanks for sharing, best wishes 🙂

  • Rote prayer, social media doubt and worry, along with a EUREKA sighting, makes for a great read. I dug the digression; that changing the world one community at a time talk never gets old. I pay attention to the way you finish, as this is an area I struggle with. Your writing is natural and easy, and always a pleasure. Thank you!

  • I just shared tonight in a meeting how the serenity prayer can refocus my viewpoint away from anxiety and fear. I acknowledged, “I know it sounds so cliche…. but its really true!” Lol Than you Mark. Great share as always.

  • Thank you Mark. I’m not sure why but for some reason I have been struggling with the rote prayers – thinking I was making prayer “too easy” by using them. So, even while using them, I will struggle to concentrate on every single word making sure I understand it and am focused on it…. I think I lost the ability to trust in the prayer. You just freed me from my own trap here. Thank you.

    • Get out of there before it gets ya!

      I have made an earnest return to prayer life. It is making a huge difference. I hope you find the same relief.

  • I completely identify with not using the Serenity Prayer – and other things that I know will work, that have proved to me that they work, and yet, I don’t use them.
    Thank you for saying proficiently what is sitting below the surface in my mind. Your posts challenge me to look honestly and thoroughly. Thank you!

    • If you said the prayer once more than usual, it makes all this blogging business worth it. Thanks Kristin. Hoping the fiend is taking it easy on you. I’ve been having a lot of cravings, especially while mowing the grass.

  • Gotta upload a pic of that tire now! – DDM

  • Beautiful post. It is a profound prayer, there is a lot of power in the deep understanding and alignment with those words.

  • This isn’t the first time one of your post has brought inner things to the fore, but I wanted to pay proper respect and put this one to sleep. It really stirred up the emotion; which surfaced late and struck deep. I was able to work through some good stuff – social media fear, doubt, and denial – thank you.

    • I’m glad it stirred you into some thoughts, and maybe actions? That’s what it’s all about. You know it as well as I do. We’re here to carry the message. The message you carry is strong. I’m honored we can carry it together.

  • Wonderful. And we don’t realize most people out there are busy…worrying about what others think of them. 😛

    • Isn’t that a revelation? Everybody is too busy thinking about themselves to worry about me! How freeing is that!

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