—The Serenity Prayer

This section is commonly left out of the Serenity Prayer.

Growing up in a wash of humanism, I was annoyed by the two Commandments as Jesus presented them. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy soul and with all thy heart and with all thy mind and with all thy strength, and thy neighbor as thyself.

I completely got it about loving thy neighbor as thyself. This seemed a worthy chore, although it was tacked on at the end, almost as an afterthought. As for the first rule, this sounded, well it sounded parochial. I imagined an old coot in a beard, and he was insisting that before making the coffee, before anything else—I must love Him, join the club, tithe and be counted. It sounded like He was thinking of Himself first.

Now I think it wasn’t about Him, but about the world as we find it. And that we were being enjoined to love life, and to love it with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. The older I get the more that seems a good idea.

Which is why I so like these lines often left out of the Serenity Prayer.

The Serenity Prayer is commonly published and recited in the short form. There are variations, but it often goes like this:

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.

Certainly it’s profound. It’s important to be courageous and dispassionate and wise. But then the wrong decision I make most, is to look away. Correction: I don’t just look away from life, I snub it. As if I were a snob, and life should known better than to have wars, and disease and ambiguity.

Martin Amis writes about his father, Kingsley Amis: “Perhaps the most revealing thing my father ever said was in response to Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s question ‘You atheist?’ He answered: ‘Well yes, but it’s more that I hate him.’”

This, I think, is not a healthy attitude, although hatred is almost certainly preferable to my attempt to remain disengaged.

David Evanier expresses my tragedy, in his book The Great Kisser: “No doubt about it, I’ve missed my life. It wasn’t the one I wanted. And so I waited for the new one to begin.”

I know, I know: We’re all in a hurry. And not all of us are Christians. But just for kicks, why not try out the prayer in its long version.

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.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.