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All That Is Fair: The Serenity Prayer That Willie Taught Me to Pray


We’ve all heard it before.  The serenity prayer.  “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.”  It was written in the 1930s by Reinhold Niebuhr and later adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous.  Certainly it is one of the most recognizable prayers in the western world.  Millions of people have been encouraged by its message.  So why is this prayer so widely loved?  There seems to be a particular universal truth about human nature that it reveals.

When I was a boy, I always imagined myself doing amazing things.  I pictured myself as an astronaut orbiting the earth, or as a pro-skater who hung out with Tony Hawk, or as a world-class rock climber dangling from the Nose of El Capitan on the cover of National Geographic.  I would dream day and night of the amazing things that life was holding for me.  Surely greatness would follow me all the days of my life!...  Time marched forward and I became a man…  Instead of being a carefree kid with almost no real responsibility, I gradually started to take the reins of my own life.  And in doing this, I had to make decisions.  I had to actually live my life.  There were good things that happened and good pursuits that I chose to follow.  There were also tragedies that happened to me and a host of mistakes that I made.  This is the way life works.  We pick a direction and we start moving.  And we have the privilege (or handicap, sometimes) of looking back over our lives and retracing the journey.  It is a sure bet that our lives will almost never turn out like we thought they might when we were young.  And we can look back with hearts full gratitude, regret, or a mix of both.

Alcoholics Anonymous seeks to help men and women break free of the self-destructive devices they may have taken on.  Often people involved with AA struggle severely with regret.  They regret the choices they’ve made and the hell they have put themselves and their friends and families through.  The serenity prayer is so beautifully concise and encouraging for those who suffer from regret, asking for peace in the face of what causes anxiety.  None of us can change our past.  It is what it is.  But whether we face it with peace and consolation, or anxiety and anger… that’s the real matter at hand.  Also, people who are fighting the battle with addiction often feel powerless to change their current situation.  The serenity prayer asks humbly for courage to face what is within our power to affect.  And finally it asks for wisdom.  Wisdom to pick our battles.  To know when to fight and when to throw up our white flag.  Isn’t this what we all need?

The universal truth that Niebuhr captured in his prayer is simply this: We will all need peace, we will all need courage, and we will all need wisdom, because NO ONE will ever live a carefree, mistake-free life.  This is without exception.
Willie Nelson understood this truth.  And he expressed it in such beautiful poetry.  I sing this song to myself often.  It’s my serenity prayer.  Give it a listen and let it encourage you.  Preach on, Willie!

“Nothing I Can Do About It Now”

I’ve got a long list of real good reasons
For all the things I’ve done
I’ve got a picture in the back of my mind
Of what I’ve lost and what I’ve won
I’ve survived every situation
Knowing when to freeze and when to run
And regret is just a memory written on my brow
And there’s nothing I can do about it now.

I’ve got a wild and a restless spirit
I held my price through every deal
I’ve seen the fire of a woman scorned
Turn her heart of gold to steal
I’ve got the song of the voice inside me
Set to the rhythm of the wheel
And I’ve been dreaming like a child
Since the cradle broke the bow
And there’s nothing I can do about it now.

Running through the changes
Going through the stages
Coming round the corners in my life
Leaving doubt to fate
Staying out too late
Waiting for the moon to say goodnight
And I could cry for the time I’ve wasted
But that’s a waste of time and tears,
And I know just what I’d change
If went back in time somehow
But there’s nothing I can do about it now

Running through the changes
Going through the stages
Coming round the corners in my life
Leaving doubt to fate
Staying out too late
Waiting for the moon to say goodnight
And I could cry for the time I’ve wasted
But that’s a waste of time and tears
And I know just what I’d change
If went back in time somehow
But there’s nothing I can do about it now.

I’m forgiving everything that forgiveness will allow
And there’s nothing I can do about it now