These Twenty-five words are the bedrock of the worldwide Alcoholics Anonymous movement, a movement that has saved and improved millions of lives. When Barb Rogers first heard this prayer a quarter of a century ago, she could scarcely credit it and hadn't the ears to believe it. It all begins with "meee, meee, meee," she writes. As in, Why is God doing all these things to meee? Why doesn't God understand that I know what's best for mee and do what I ask him to? Why are other people doing all these things to mee? Well as it turns out, it's not all about "mee." Rogers tells her story and invites readers to take a tough, loving look at their own. There are some things we should accept, period. We shouldn't take them personally. We shouldn't whine or scream or go off on a tear. Then there are some things we can change, and we should probably take a look at those as well. And the real trick, the one that comes from years of saying the prayer and letting its healing principles sink in, is knowing the difference. Barb Rogers' own story starts in the depths of alcoholism, with deceased children, broken marriages, lost jobs. Sure there were reasons, but reasons didn't change anything: the Serenity Prayer did.
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About the Author
Barb Rogers became a professional costume designer after beginning her journey of recovery. She is the founder of Broadway Bazaar Costumes, and author of three books about costuming. She's the author of Keep It Simple & Sane: Freeing Yourself from Addictive Thinking, TwentyFive Words and Clutter Junkie No More. Barb passed away in 2011.
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How the Serenity Prayer Can Save Your Life
By Barb Rogers
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2005 Barb Rogers
All rights reserved.
The Serenity Prayer
The Serenity Prayer speaks to us of change. From the point of conception, life is change, whether we like it or not. We may not have control over many of the changes that take place in our lives, but there comes a time when we must decide whether to allow our circumstances and other people to dictate our lives, or to become coauthors of our destiny.
Two people get together to make us into a human being. Genetically, that may determine what we look like, predispose us to certain things, but we are not our parents. They are simply the vessels that created our body. The very essence of who we are comes from somewhere else. From the moment we draw our first breath, we embark on an experience that can only be ours, totally unique.
Early on, significant others will attempt to guide us with their truths, those things they have learned through their life experiences. At some point, we are all faced with a choice. We can accept their truth as our own, or we can have the courage to say, to ourselves and them, "This is my truth.... This is what I believe." And what we truly believe is our truth will shape our world.
As we age, live through many life experiences and choices, some better than others, what we believe will go through many changes. Where we are at the moment, what we have learned, what we have experienced, is the only truth we can live. That's not to say we can't be open and willing to change.
Have you ever sat glued to your television, totally in awe of the story of someone who has overcome great odds? Did you wonder what you would have done given the same set of circumstances? Even though you may not be happy with your own life, did you think you should be grateful because it wasn't as bad as the person's in the story? When you think that way—compare yourself to others—you are cheating yourself. Just like the person in the story, you have been given a set of circumstances to deal with. They are yours alone. You can't understand the person in the story any more than they can understand you. The best you can do is accept that that is the life they were given, for whatever reason, and focus on the life you were given, the choices you are making.
Each individual has their own questions about life, about the purpose for their existence, the meaning of it all. There are those who would allow others to influence their answers to life. There are those who believe there are no answers, so why bother? And there are seekers. The seekers are the ones who will become coauthors of their lives. They are the ones who will live life to the fullest, understand a need to experience all emotion, stay open to the truth of who they are, and embrace the gifts of choice and change.
At age thirty-five, after a life filled with unhappiness, struggle to survive, and frustration, I made the choice to become a seeker. I've heard it said that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. Although I'm certain I'd seen the Serenity Prayer many times before—on cards, laminated onto a plaque, embroidered on a wall hanging—I didn't understand it. The prayer was simply words, pretty words and a nice thought, until my life brought me to the point of need—to the point of becoming a seeker, to the point of understanding there had to be a better way.
It was such a simple little prayer, those few lines that said so much and gave me hope. Serenity, peace, seemed so far away. Considering how my life had gone, if I could just find a bit of it, I would have felt overpaid. But it gave me so much more. If I could have planned out my life, it couldn't be better than it is today. I would have sold myself short. The Serenity Prayer was the beginning of a fulfilled life: a life filled with love, laughter, and a happiness I never knew existed. The prayer gave me freedom from the past, from the expectation of others, from the dread of each new day. Today, I look forward to every moment, to every new sunrise, with the anticipation of a child experiencing everything for the first time.
Life is not going to just happen to me. I am not going to make it happen. My life is going to be a happening on a daily basis. Through the grace of a God of my understanding and truly living the words of the Serenity Prayer, I have found my truth for today.
If you have become a seeker, have decided to take part in your life, to accept the gifts of choice and change, perhaps, like me, this wonderful prayer can be an inspiration. Ask yourself the hard questions. Be honest with yourself. Who are you? What do you believe? Does what you believe make you happy? Do you know serenity? Are you living or just going through the motions? If you can't answer these questions, or aren't satisfied with your answers, and I told you there was a better way to live, would you be willing to take the risk? If your life is unhappy, unfulfilled, if you dread each new day, what have you got to lose?
By truly understanding the Serenity Prayer, putting the words into action, I can guarantee you will be happy, joyous, and free. I know this because I am living proof and because I've seen it happen in the lives of others. Many of us, including me, were broken people, people for whom others would have said there was no hope. I was the child you wouldn't want your children to play with, the girl that mothers feared for their sons, the wife from hell, the mother who didn't have a clue, the person you would avoid on the street, at a social function, certainly not someone you would want as a friend. Not so today.
Today, my life is filled with friends, love, laughter, a life that exceeded all expectations. What changed? I did— with help from a God of my understanding and the Serenity Prayer lived out on a daily basis. It takes God, acceptance, courage, and wisdom.
God, Grant Me the Serenity
No one can prove to me there is no God, any more than I can prove to them there is a God. We all are brought to that belief through our own life experiences. Some of us are born into a specific religion, raised to believe certain things; others encounter the question of God at some point in their lives. But no matter how we come to the choice, it is a personal matter that no one else can decide for us.
Many years ago, I heard a speaker whose story had great impact on me. From the beginning of his life, he was raised by his mother and grandmother to be a priest. His young life was spent in training, in church, in prayer, in learning what was expected of him. And he became a priest. The problem was, he didn't believe in God. Yes, he knew the right words to say, knew how to teach others, was fulfilling the expectations of others, but inside lived an unhappy, frustrated person plagued by questions.
As with most unhappy human beings, he began to act out his true feelings. He nearly lost everything and everyone in his life before he came to a God of his understanding, until he found a true faith that all the words of others could not give him.
Like the priest, I was given messages by others. I was a waste, a little heathen who would never amount to anything. God was the first half of a swear word. If he was out there, up there, or wherever, he sure wouldn't waste a minute's notice on someone like me ... except to punish me. That's what I believed, so it became my reality ... the world I lived in. Everything bad that happened was God's fault, and the few good things in my life were directly related to me. Even when something good happened, I couldn't enjoy it because I always wondered when the other shoe would drop.
I will probably never forget my first real encounter with the Serenity Prayer. It was at a low point in my life. I walked into a twelve-step meeting. There it was, in bold, black letters, on the wall behind the chairperson. They started the meeting by reciting it in unison. Not me. I wasn't speaking to God. I wasn't asking him for anything. As far as I could see, he'd already given me more than I could stand. Otherwise, why would I be there in that place, with a bunch of strangers, sick, scared, and shaking?
The first line of the prayer put me off. Even as time passed, my health improved; I could think more clearly; I couldn't get passed that first line: "God, grant me the serenity."
My mind screamed, "All he ever gave me was misery." At that point, I'd lived through abuse, rape, the death of my children, many disastrous relationships, a mental hospital, and addiction. I had nothing, and there was no one left who cared if I stepped off the face of the Earth.
Determined as I was to find a better way to live, I formed a plan. I would become a minimalist, not own anything that I cared about, stay away from real involvement and feelings with other people, and use all the wisdom and knowledge I could gather that didn't involve God. I know it sounds crazy now, but at the time, it made sense to me. If I didn't have anything, no one could take it from me. If I didn't love anyone, I wouldn't get hurt. If I ignored God, maybe he would leave me alone.
Not having possessions wasn't difficult. I'd lost everything. I moved into a half of a garage, minimally furnished, and started my new life. It took money to live, even though I was living poorly. I needed a job. Since I wasn't well thought of in the small town where I lived—and the residents had good reason—the job search did not go well. When I was nearly out of money and food and wondered how I would keep a roof over my head, I went to a person I'd met in one of the meetings. I poured out my story of woe. He said, "Have you prayed about it?"
I fought back the tears. He didn't understand. No one understood. I'd prayed when my babies were sick. They died. I prayed when my mother shot herself. She died. I prayed when my oldest son got in trouble. He died. Every time I fell into a traumatic situation, I'd told God what to do, but he never heard me. I wouldn't ask him for another thing.
Today, I'm sure that man must have seen the pain in my eyes because he said, "This time, why don't you ask God what his will for you is—to put you where you need to be?"
As I walked home, his words haunted my mind. For several days, I questioned, agonized, tortured myself with memories of past prayers. Desperate times call for desperate measures. I had to do something, and I didn't have much left to lose. I prayed, and I did it the way he said.
Little did I know, that day was the beginning of my new life. Through a set of strange circumstances, a job was put in my path. It wasn't the type of work I would have sought out; I had no experience in the field. It barely paid enough for me to get by, but it ended up being one of the best things that ever happened to me.
I would be a daily caregiver for an older, ill lady, who had to have 'round-the-clock care. I told this woman and her family the truth about myself because I knew someone in that small town would. They hired me anyway. I spent my days with this fine lady, this woman whom I came to love, in spite of my plan. She had lived through her own tragedies, had faced the illnesses that were racking her body—but she knew God—had an unwavering faith that I had never known.
She was the epitome of living the Serenity Prayer. And in my time with her, I began to understand what the words meant. Through seeing how she lived on a daily basis, listening to her, I realized that the rest of the Serenity Prayer meant nothing until I could find a way to a God of my understanding, a faith to ignite hope, a willingness to risk living again. I realized I was simply existing, and I had a choice. I could stay with the plan, in a life that was safe but meant nothing, or take the risk. Go out on a limb and ask God to show me the way ... his way.
One of the problems with turning things over to a God of our choosing is that we are no longer in charge, and may have trouble giving up control. Truth was, for me at least, when I was left to my own devices, in control, I made a real mess of it. How much worse could it have gotten? I became a seeker. I talked to others, people like the woman I cared for, people who had found a better way, read books about spirituality, but still, there was that part of me that didn't want to give in, to surrender to the unknown.
One lady told me to tape three prayers to my bathroom mirror. Each morning, I was to read them aloud. I began doing that. Another person said that at night to give thanks for three things. I did that. It became my habit to read the Serenity Prayer, the Lord's Prayer, and the Universal Prayer aloud. When I lay my head on my pillow, I thanked God for three things, even if it was simply enough to eat, a place of shelter, and the ability to walk to work. Through those acts, I began to feel better, but in me there was always something missing. I never really felt that connection to God.
Have you ever had that feeling? It's like being in a room full of people and feeling totally alone. It's about not fitting in anywhere, always on the outside looking in. I watched people, listened to them speak of their lives, saw what they had, but couldn't figure out how they got there. Somehow, I always knew I would never be allowed to know the secret handshake that would allow me to join the club called humanity. What I didn't know was I was about to embark on a life lesson that would open all the doors to me.
My special lady, whom I'd allowed myself to love, was near her time to cross over. I knew time was short. The death of a loved one was my trigger to self-destruct. I began to prime myself for the inevitable. I could not lose anyone else. Why had I allowed myself to care?
When the moment of choice was at hand, instead of running away, instead of self-destructing, I listened to a voice. It wasn't the voice of God.... Well, maybe, if he was talking through another human being. A man once said to me, "The time will come when you will get on your knees and truly believe." I heard that voice in my mind.
I dropped to my knees in the open doorway and truly asked for help ... begged for help. God swooped me up in his strong, safe arms, and I knew, from that moment on, everything would be okay. I figured out that the secret handshake is surrender, and the door stays open as long as I stay connected on a daily basis. The connection is through prayer. Today, I am never alone, and I fit in anywhere God chooses for me to be.
The serenity is in a sense of knowing. It's not like thinking things will be okay. It's knowing it within the deepest part of our being. All doubts, all fears are removed; the missing part is there; the part that has been broken is healed.
It may have taken me a long time and a lot of misery to get to the point of surrender, but once there, the result was instantaneous. Once there, I understood that this is what I'd been moving toward my entire life. It took me every moment, every experience, every person I'd encountered, to bring me to that one moment on my knees. I knew there was a plan, and I was a part of it. My life was forever changed.
It had always seemed to me that the first line of the Serenity Prayer should have been at the bottom, that through acceptance, courage, and wisdom, we would know serenity. I now know whoever wrote it had it right. Without knowing a God of our understanding, the acceptance, courage, and wisdom will elude us. God's gift of serenity is the knowing that all these things are possible.
Are you thinking, "This all sounds real nice, but how does it work in real life?" It's a big commitment. Will I have to don my best clothes, attend church, donate money, go out and find people to help? What about fun? Do I get to have fun anymore? Do I really want to be that nice? Will I have to run around witnessing to the world about God? I don't know if I can do it ... or want to do it.
It's normal to have doubts, questions about what life will be like, what changes will take place once we make that connection to a God of our understanding. I had plenty of them. For one thing, I wondered what was meant by a God of my understanding. I barely understood what it was to be human.
I was not raised in religion, but once, when I was young, I attended Sunday School and church twice a week. My mother, who was alcoholic and drug addicted, was told she had an incurable lung disease. I guess she figured it was time to get religious. Of course, her idea of religion was to drink vodka because someone said no one could smell it. Between that and the pills, it made for an interesting experience.
She chose a local church whose teachings included not going to movies, girls not wearing pants, or jewelry or cutting their hair. They spoke of a big, mean God who swooped down and wiped out entire groups of people. Even as a child, I questioned what I was being taught. I wondered why some God who was supposed to be in charge of the whole world cared whether I wore a dress or not. He surely had bigger concerns.
But there I was, and as long as she decided we would be involved, I had no choice. That might help you understand that later, when my children died, it wasn't a stretch for me to believe God was a baby killer and that I was surely being punished for some untoward deed or thought I'd had. And there were plenty of them to pick from.
Excerpted from twenty-five words by Barb Rogers. Copyright © 2005 Barb Rogers. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
The Serenity Prayer
God, Grant Me the Serenity
Serenity Means Letting Go of Drama in Our Lives
To Accept the Things I Cannot Change
Acceptance Means Letting Go of Expectations
Courage to Change the Things I Can
Courage Means Facing the Truth
And Wisdom to Know the Difference
Wisdom Means Choosing How to Handle Life's Situations
What People are Saying About This
"Twenty-Five Words is a marvelous read. What I found most powerful in this work was Ms. Rogers’s willingness and ability to translate the wisdom of the Serenity Prayer into the nuts and bolts of her life. Recovery is never about theory alone. Recovery is a connection of the heart that demands we live from the inside out. Ms. Rogers has done a masterful job of showing us how she has accomplished this for herself in the context of the Serenity Prayer."
author of Believing in Myself: Self Esteem Daily Meditations and From Anger to Forgiveness