The Serenity Prayer is the common name for an untitled prayer originally written by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in the late1930s to early 1940s. It is believed that Niebuhr wrote the prayer for a sermon.
Elisabeth Sifton’s book entitled The Serenity Prayer, which was published in 2003,,quotes this version as the authentic original:
“God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”
The earliest verifiable texts so far discovered are an approximate version, apparently quoted from memory, in a query in the in The New York Times Book Review dated July 12, 1942 which asks for the author of the quotation; a reply in the same column issued on August 2, 1942 states 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 serenity prayer became widely known when it was adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous; In 1950, the AA Grapevine, an AA magazine, identified Niebuhr as the author and the current AA web site continues to identify Niebuhr as the author.
The serenity prayer is 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.. The Alcoholics Anonymous version of the serenity prayer omits some of Niebuhr’s text:
“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.”
Niebuhr discusses the Serenity Prayer and how it came about it in his book, The Essential Reinhold Niebuhr: Selected Essays and Addresses. He states,
“… The embarrassment, particularly, was occasioned by the incessant correspondence about a prayer I had composed years before, which the old Federal Council of Churches had used and which later was printed on small cards to give to soldiers. Subsequently Alcoholics Anonymous adopted it as its official prayer. The prayer reads: ‘God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to dintinguish the one from the other.’ …”
In addition, Niebuhr’s daughter, Elisabeth Sifton, wrote an entire book about her father’s serenity prayer, The Serenity Prayer: Faith and Politics in Times of Peace and War, that explores the circumstances around which her father wrote this prayer, the wide range of versions of this prayer, and the real essence of the prayer’s meaning.