This prayer is usually attributed to Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), who composed it.
The earliest known version of the prayer is from 1937 and it was first published in 1941 by New York Herald Tribune after an AA member found it.
Reinhold Niebuhr’s daughter, Elisabeth Sifton, wrote an entire book about her father’s prayer, The Serenity Prayer: Faith and Politics in Times of Peace and War, that explores the circumstances around which Reinhold Niebuhr wrote this prayer.
The first four lines of this pacifying prayer are an adaption of the original text; the next part of the prayer appears to have been added later by an unknown author.
Serenity Prayer complete lyrics:
”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.”
The prayer goes on to speak of courage, accepting, and wisdom. It all comes down to asking and allowing God to give us these things.
Serenity Prayer and Alcoholics Anonymous
The prayer is at the very heart of the ethos of Alcoholics Anonymous. It became more widely known after being brought to the attention of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1941 by a member.
It has been part of AA ever since and has also been used in other 12-step programs.
The Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Steps program, originally published in 1939, emphasizes the need to recognize we have a problem we are unable to change on our own, and belief in a power greater than ourselves who is able to help us.
Once adopted by the recovery movement, the prayer spread rapidly and even had it printed on small cards for members to carry in their wallets.
”So it is no wonder that so many people find daily strength and resolve in praying for grace to accept with serenity, that which we cannot change, courage to change what we should change, and the wisdom to discern the one from the other.” – Elisabeth Sifton