Serenity Prayer

Serenity Prayer

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Serenity Prayer is the common name for an originally untitled prayer written by the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in the 1930s or early 1940s.



History and text

Original version by Reinhold Niebuhr

Niebuhr seems to have written the prayer for use in a sermon, perhaps as early as 1934 (the date given in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 16th edn., ed. Justin Kaplan, 1992, p. 684), perhaps in the early 1940s.

Elisabeth Sifton's book The Serenity Prayer (2003) quotes this version as the authentic original:

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.

Reinhold Niebuhr recalled that his prayer was circulated by the Federal Council of Churches and later by the United States armed forces.[1]

Reinhold Niebuhr's versions of the prayer were always printed as a single prose sentence; printings that set out the prayer as three lines of verse modify the author's original version.

The earliest verifiable printed texts so far discovered are an approximate version (apparently quoted from memory) in a query in the "Queries and Answers" column in The New York Times Book Review, July 12, 1942, p. 23, which asks for the author of the quotation; and a reply in the same column in the issue for August 2, 1942, p. 19, where the quotation is attributed to Niebuhr and an unidentified printed text is quoted as follows:

O God and Heavenly Father,
Grant to us the serenity of mind to accept that which cannot be changed; the courage to change that which can be changed, and the wisdom to know the one from the other, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

The prayer became widely known when it was adopted in modified form by Alcoholics Anonymous; an AA magazine, The AA Grapevine, identified Niebuhr as the author (January 1950, pp. 6-7), and the AA web site continues to identify Niebuhr as the author (see External Links).

The prayer's origin is often attributed to Friedrich Christoph Oetinger (1702-1782), but this attribution may be the result of a misunderstanding of a plagiarism of the prayer by Theodor Wilhelm, an ex-Nazi professor at the University of Kiel. Wilhelm printed a German version of the prayer as his own work in his book, Wendepunkt der poltitischen Erziehung; he published the book under the pseudonym "Friedrich Oetinger" (the book did not pretend to be the work of the 18th-century Oetinger; the name was merely a pseudonym, apparently chosen because the author's wife was descended from pastors who shared the theology of the 18th-century Oetinger). Theodor Wilhelm was apparently unaware that the US Army and the USO had been distributing the prayer in Germany since the end of World War II, and later writers who were unaware that "Friedrich Oetinger" was a pseudonym (even though the book was clearly written by a 20th-century author) confused this name with the eighteenth-century Oetinger. Wilhelm apparently chose to publish under a pseudonym because his Nazi past was widely known in Germany at the time.

On the other hand, Dr. John Sasser has produced photographs of a Gasthaus, built in 1849 in Bergen-Enkheim, Germany, which contain the words of the serenity prayer above the windows of the first floor. Dr. Sasser notes that Dr. Niebuhr is quoted in the January, 1950 Grapevine as saying the prayer "might have been spooking about for years, perhaps centuries." He concludes, therefore, that, while Oetinger may not have written the prayer, Niebuhr was certainly not the original author.

Other spurious claims for the authorship of the prayer (none of them supported by any evidence whatever) include one that the prayer was written by the Christian philosopher and theologian Boethius just before his execution in the year 524 or 525.

In the movie Billy Jack, authorship of the prayer is mistakenly given to St. Francis of Assisi.

Adaptations and expansions

The prayer is reliably reported to have been in use in Alcoholics Anonymous since the early 1940s. It has also been used in Narcotics Anonymous and other Twelve-step programs; such as, Serenity Groups.

Niebuhr's original text, from in Elisabeth Sifton's book The Serenity Prayer appears near the top of this page. The slightly edited Alcoholics Anonymous version below omits the word "grace" from the first line, shortens some of the remainder, and sets out the prayer in the form of verses:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

An expanded version exists, but its origins are unknown; it is certainly not by Niebuhr, who invariably cited his original version.

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;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.


The philosopher W.W. Bartley juxtaposes Niebuhr's prayer with a Mother Goose rhyme expressing a similar sentiment, but without comment:[1]

For every ailment under the sun
There is a remedy, or there is none;
If there be one, try to find it;
If there be none, never mind it.

Allusions to the Prayer

  • The back cover of the Neil Young album Re-ac-tor has the prayer in Latin: 'Deus, dona mihi serenitatem accipere res quae non possum mutare, fortitudinem mutare res quae possum, atque sapientiam differentiam cognoscere.'
  • On the back cover of Whitney Houston's self-titled debut album.
  • In the song, "Higher Power", by Boston.
  • In the song, "Feel so different" (1990), by Sinéad O'Connor.
  • In the song, "Gotta Make It To Heaven," by 50 Cent.
  • In the song, "What I Cannot Change," by LeAnn Rimes, from her album, Family.
  • In the intro, "Loving" of India Arie's third album "Testimony Vol 1 - Life And Relationship."
  • As a track on Goodie MOb's debut album Soul Food.
  • In the book, "Angels & Demons," by Dan Brown, quoted by the Camerlengo (although credited to St. Francis).
  • In the book, Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut.
  • An older printing of the AA's "Big Book" has the 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. Thy will, not mine, be done.'
  • In the game World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade, one of the Blood Elves' speech recordings has one elf reciting the prayer. He breaks down half way through, overcome with a craving for magic, which Blood Elves are addicted to.
  • The Israeli Rapper Subliminal adapts the prayer into his song "Tikvah" (Hope) about the Israeli wars and terrorism.
  • The hardcore punk band Blood for Blood has an album named after the prayer, and the first and last tracks of the album are the serenity prayer being recited by the band's lead singer.
  • Olivia Newton-John's CD Stronger than Before includes a setting of the prayer, titled "Serenity".
  • In Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Season 6, episode 22 entitled "Renewal" first aired Monday, May 21, 2007. It was recited during a prayer group.
  • In the film, Mr. Brooks, the title character repeats the prayer several times.
  • In the film Billy Jack, the lead female character, Jean Roberts, recites the prayer.
  • In the King of the Hill episode How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Alamo, Principal Moss says 'Are you familiar with the serenity prayer Hank? Cuz this is one of those things I can't change.'
  • In the episode of the TV show Summerland titled "The Wisdom to Know the Difference," Eva teaches the prayer to her nephew Derrick to console him.
  • In the novel, ’Salem's Lot, by Stephen King
  • In the movie: Changing Lanes, Samuel L. Jackson, in the character of Doyle Gipson, recites the first section - with possible reference to the fact that he is an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous.
  • When they are on tour, Robbie Williams and his band recite the prayer together before every gig, replacing "God" with "Elvis".


  1. ^ W.W. Bartley, The Retreat to Commitment, p. 35


  • Elisabeth Sifton, The Serenity Prayer (2003)
  • L.G. Parkhurst, Jr., Prayer Steps to Serenity the Twelve Steps Journey: New Serenity Prayer Edition (Agion Press 2006)

External links



Source: Wikipedia

All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License. (See Copyrights for details.)


Faith (for Content):