The Serenity Prayer – Surrender Isn’t a Negotiation

The Serenity Prayer in script on purple backgroundThe Serenity Prayer

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.

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.


I love the opening lines of the Serenity Prayer, as most recovered alcoholics and addicts in 12 Step fellowships do; a powerful appeal to our God, as we understand Him, to restore peace in our hearts and minds.

By only reciting those opening lines, we conveniently skip the whole section concerning surrender and sacrifice.

In fact, most people don’t even know there’s a “second part.”

Many of us have made a habit of asking for the gift of serenity in a way that sidesteps any obligation to DO anything, often expecting serenity to be handed to us simply because we prayed.

After all… Who wants to actually take on hardship as the way to peace? It’s as if we’re saying, “God, grant me serenity with a minimum of effort on my part.”

When the conditions of surrender are the sacrifice of our will, of our selfish desires, and of our expectations are the price, most people have some reservations.

Who wants to give up our desire to be right, or validated, or rewarded.

Conditional Surrender Nets Nothing

Truth be told, I often start to negotiate my acceptance of the things I cannot change, offering God a conditional surrender that has expectations attached.

Years of sponsoring other men have made it clear I’m not alone in doing so. We often tell God in our hearts that we’ll give up A, but settle for B. What if B isn’t what God had in mind either?

Then we sit and wonder why we’re still restless, irritable, and discontent…

Conditional sacrifice is not what Step 3 required.

“We had a new employer. Being all powerful, He provided what we needed, if we kept close to Him and performed His work well.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 63)

My Prayer for Wisdom

A couple of years ago, I was going through a tough patch in life. After beating myself up for days in a quest for peace through intellectual understanding…

After so much scheming and rationalization…

After repeated attempts at negotiating with God, I found myself exhausted, and my will finally broke.

For a brief spell, I was left feeling empty, hopeless, and out of options… That emptiness was room for a significant spiritual experience that led to the following prayer that I have kept with me ever since:

God, grant me the wisdom to recognize the difference between surrender and a business deal. Show me the path that leads to peace and joy.

I got it… Way down deep in my soul.

Surrender is a total forfeiture of conditions, which leaves only acceptance and a new course of action on God’s terms. A business deal still has a lot of expectations attached.

I can have no expectations on God if I want His peace.

Where Does Surrender of the Will Leave Me?

That leaves some tension—a nagging question akin to, “Where’s the sweet spot between doing everything and doing nothing? What are God’s terms?”

Most of us have never found harmony existing in His will.

Here’s my take on it:

When I desire peace, I actively involve myself in helping others, and I sharpen my awareness of the principles I learned working the 12 Steps. I do everything I can to live in a manner that recognizes the needs and desires of others as having an equally important place in the universe as my own.
That tends to occupy my attention until God sorts out whatever is going on in my life (perceived or real) on His timeframe.

“When we sincerely took such a position, all sorts of remarkable things followed.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 63)

A Worthwhile Way to Spend Time Waiting

When the way forward is not yet apparent, helping others is the perfect way to spend that awkward period of time when we’re waiting on God.


Dr. Bob put it best:

“I spend a great deal of time passing on what I learned to others who want and need it badly. I do it for four reasons:

1. Sense of duty.
2. It is a pleasure.
3. Because in so doing I am paying my debt to the man who took time to pass it on to me.
4. Because every time I do it I take out a little more insurance for myself against a possible slip.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 181)

Helping others often provides a sense of contentment despite my problems.

I find joy, peace, and a willingness to grow where I’m planted.

I pursue a greater purpose, and happiness occurs as a natural byproduct of that pursuit.

It makes sense. Newly separated from alcohol, I dove headlong into the 12 Steps, and sobriety and contentment was the byproduct of the relationship with my creator that developed.

I follow the same plan today that worked before:

I surrender my will and life, without negotiation or conditions, to be used for a higher purpose. Serenity, contentment, and happiness arise out of those efforts.

Established on such a footing, all sorts of remarkable things followed.