The Universe Isn’t Enough

Reinhold Niebuhr is known for ideas that were highly influential in Christian theological debate during the early 20th Century, but as far as alcoholics and other addicts are concerned, his restating of a basic philosophical truth in the Serenity Prayer is a life preserver in the roiling sea of life.

Too many recovering people give only lip service to the prayer. In most of our fellowships, if we attend meetings regularly, we recite it at least a few times a week. The question is, do we listen to what we’re saying?

The meditation and prayer of Step Eleven are not meant as opportunities to ask The Universe for things that we want, nor even the things that we actually need. However, if we diligently practice listening for answers instead of asking for special treatment, we can gain valuable insights, and the Serenity Prayer provides simple instructions. If we combine that practice with the input that we have provided by conscientiously practicing the Tenth Step, we will discover many of the answers to the second part of the prayer, where we ask for “the courage to change the things I can.”

The Universe is busy with other things: supernovas, black holes, gravity, quantum pranks, fate, and all that. We cannot expect it to provide the things we want and need simply for the asking, nor can we blame it for every bad thing that happens. So far as we know, it does not in the present day speak to us from ignited shrubbery, and the moving finger has apparently writ and moved on. Where we are able to do so, we need to seek wisdom and apply it to the issues in our lives. Step Eleven and its principle of Awareness are, like the Serenity Prayer, powerful tools — but only if we use them powerfully by contemplating our lives and what we can do to create change for the better.

  • Accept the things I cannot change: all that stuff and those people out there.
  • Change the things I can: the way I look at and live my life — the stuff in here.
  • Wisdom to know the difference: (Oops!)

As Hamlet said, “…aye, there’s the rub.” The Prince of Denmark was contemplating suicide at the time. (“To sleep, perchance to dream…”). In our case, as recovering addicts, failure to contemplate how we live our lives is spiritual suicide, and it is a sure way to end up headfirst back in the things we cannot change. If we are looking for something to contemplate during meditation, the meaning of Dr Niebhur’s prayer is a great place to start, because if we truly grasp the concepts, we’ve learned a powerful and essential lesson.

Step 10. “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”

Step 11. “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with a Higher Power as we understood it, praying only for knowledge of its will for us and the power to carry that out.”

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