You & Your Family

Prayers that define us

Do you have a favourite prayer, one you often say or which resonates with you?

One popular prayer is the Serenity Prayer (attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr). A widely-used, abbreviated version is:

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.

This prayer resonates with so many people that it has been adopted as an affirmation by some self-help groups like the Alcoholics Anonymous. I recall two clients for whom this prayer had a special significance.

The first is a woman married for over 20 years to a dutiful husband. Yet she found him cold and felt little affection from him. Looking at his background, we might understand why. His parents struggled to make ends meet. Moreover, with numerous children, they had little time and personal attention to give each one. How could this man show love to his wife and two children when he had experienced so little of it himself? The knowledge that he could not openly express his feelings brought little comfort to his family.

One day, the woman came for a session armed with the Serenity Prayer. I cannot say how this simple prayer helped her, but it did. Perhaps the very acknowledgment that there were “things I cannot change” enabled her willingness to embrace them. In this instance, she appeared to accept her husband would not change to suit her expectations.

The second client, a professional in her late thirties, had been diagnosed with Stage Four cancer two years earlier. After several rounds of aggressive treatment, her cancer went into remission. She subsequently met with three accidents, each of which could have resulted in her death. For someone who has lived life prudently and ‘done all the right things’, she was left feeling she had no control over her life. Why plan for the future when a random event could bring death?

For her, counselling was less about trying to find answers for why these things happened, and more about figuring out how to live a fulfilling and meaningful life. I shared the Serenity Prayer with her.

The first part of the prayer resonated with her – instead of letting the constant cancer marker check-ups determine her state of mind and health, she has decided to live life as fully as possible, regardless of what the markers indicate. She is not in denial that cancer may recur. Rather, she accepts life in the present, and if death rears its head, she will confront it. The second half of the prayer relates to finding the courage to continue investing in life with all its unknowns.

What is your favourite prayer? What does it say about what you value, or about your perspective on life?

Benny Bong –
has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award in 2011 and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.

Picture by leungchopan/