The Courage Prayer

4 years ago

Either as a therapist or as a participant at Al-Anon meetings, I've probably talked about the Serenity Prayer a thousand times. You know the one:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change

The courage to change the things I can

And the wisdom to know the difference

I was thinking recently about how the focus of those discussions is often on the word serenity. What does it mean? Why do we need it? How do we find it? Themes like faith, peace, surrender, and acceptance are common themes. Those things are essential to life, for sure. It also takes courage to surrender, nobody knows that quite like an addict in recovery. But even still, 'the courage to change the things I can' often seems to get less attention. It seems to get sandwiched and a bit lost between serenity and wisdom. But, what if we're being asked to accept the things we CAN change? What if our destiny is asking us to surrender to courage?

Caroline Myss, an author and spiritual teacher, says that our soul knows what things in our life we need to change, but the thought of what that really entails is too scary so we find ways to convince ourselves otherwise. How many times have we known we needed to leave a job, end a relationship, or relocate but we talked ourselves out of it? How many times have we made a choice we regretted but made excuses to relieve the discomfort? What's interesting is that social scientists, through research, have found this to be a common occurrence. I'm a psychology instructor and one of my favorite things to teach is the phenomenon called cognitive dissonance. Psychologists have found that when our behavior doesn't match our thoughts and beliefs it causes physical and psychological discomfort. What's so interesting, is that to bring ourselves back in alignment we don't usually change our behavior, we convince ourselves to believe something different instead.

I think it's through cognitive dissonance that people often come to misunderstand what serenity really means. I think we often use things like surrender, gratitude, optimism, and forgiveness as defenses against making changes. We adopt a false sense of serenity because we're afraid to do what we need to do. I've done it. I've seen clients, family, and friends do it. We tell ourselves we're just grateful to have a job. We tell ourselves our relationship could be worse. We forgive but never tell the person what they did wasn't cool. We downplay our discontent by thinking about the less fortunate. In these attempts to have serenity we may be ignoring life nudging us to make a change.

The paradox is that all of those things are true. We should be grateful and forgiving. Others are less fortunate. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't change. We can forgive but still set a boundary. We can be grateful for a job but work toward finding one that better suits our soul's purpose. Our relationship could be worse but that doesn't mean they're right for our destiny. And as far as those less fortunate, our discontent doesn't help them any. In fact, we'd probably have more energy to help them if we were feeling more joyful.

So, how do we find the wisdom to know the difference? How do we know when to change our situation, change our perspective, or both? Intuition. I wish I could give an organized list on how to recognize and trust intuition. But intuition is individually unique. We'll just know something. Or it will feel right. We may have a dream or someone will say just the right thing. "But what if I'm wrong?", we might say. Well, we don't know until we surrender to courage and take the risk to find out. Besides, if a change isn't quite right, life will find a way to get us back on track. We can't screw up our destiny that bad.

Of course, this doesn't necessarily mean we need to dismantle our lives or make sweeping changes overnight. Strategic, calculated change is still change. There's also the chance our needed changes aren't even external. Maybe we need to find the courage to be kinder to ourselves or less judgmental of others.

I have so much more I want to say about surrender and courage but they say a blog post should only be 500 words. Who "they" are I'm not really sure. And how "they" came up with 500 words I have no idea. I'm already way over that so I'm mostly just hoping you're still reading this. So, I'll leave you with this:

First, if you have something to change you know what it is. Not only is it ok to admit it to yourself but it's safe to do so. Second, say a prayer. I would suggest something really deep and profound like "Ok, God/Universe/(fill in the blank). I know I gotta change this. Now what?". By the way, that sounds a lot like steps one and two from Alcoholics Anonymous. You can learn a lot from an addict.


Re-posted from Amanda's blog at


"Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth." - Buddha

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