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The Serenity Prayer

Nov 2, 2022 | Insights

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Take the advice of the Serenity Prayer and work on the inner you before seeking to change the rest of the world.
Last month a wise and spiritual friend told me about the Serenity Prayer and recommended I take serious note of the words. Then, as if to emphasise their importance, I came across them twice more in novels I was reading. In each case, the context concerned an individual living under challenging circumstances; in each case, an older, wiser person recommended the Serenity Prayer as a guide to navigating tough situations.

For Molly, the heroine of The Maid by Nita Prose, the words are her grandmother’s favoured maxim. Molly cherishes them and uses them to guide her through the trials and tribulations of her love life and work life – both of which become increasingly complicated as the story unfolds.

Similarly, Kate Henderson, the chief protagonist in Tom Bradby’s Secret Service trilogy, finds herself in an unbelievably difficult situation where her mission, work colleagues and home life all conflict. Caught between Cilla and Charybdis, Kate visits a psychiatrist who introduces her to the Serenity Prayer and suggests she focus on how the words might help her through her increasingly dark situation.

The Serenity Prayer

Neither Kate nor Molly are religious. The only time Kate goes near a church, she gets kidnapped. However, her psychiatrist points out that you don’t need to be a person of faith to appreciate the wisdom of the words and act on them.

The prayer in its original form, as composed by Reinhold Niebuhr in 1932, reads:

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.

In its more common current form, the words have changed slightly to:

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.

The words are a powerful guide for changemakers seeking meaning in their lives by making a difference. However, it is essential to understand and accept that, even if you want to change the world, you cannot change some things.

Words of wisdom for changemakers

And do you ever need the courage to change the things that need changing? Humanity is generally resistant to change and will not accept it willingly. Making a difference requires you to overcome this resistance. You will need to know your facts and hone your skills in communication and persuasion.

But telling the difference between the two is possibly the most challenging, requiring insight and wisdom. Both are found inside ourselves, not in the words or advice of others. Self-understanding, values and aspirations are necessary to help you know the difference. Knowing yourself is the source of wisdom and is essential if you want to succeed in making a difference and finding meaning in the process.

So, take the advice of the Serenity Prayer. Work on the inner you before seeking to change the rest of the world. The preparation will be its reward.

Attributions and references

Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash


Prose, Nita. The Maid. Toronto, Penguin Canada, 2023.

Bradby, Tom. Secret Service. New York, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2019.

Further reading:

Eurich, Tasha. Insight : How to Succeed by Seeing Yourself Clearly. London, Pan Books, 2018.

Related posts:

Mirror, mirror on the wall (

Did I make the right decisions (

Plan it or wing it? (

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