Claim: The serenity prayer was authored by
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Origins: When embroiled in difficulty, even those who are not all that religious will at times find themselves appealing for help through the serenity prayer. This simple three-fold entreaty to the powers that be asks for three things:
The prayer casts light upon this simple concept even as it counsels tranquility in the face of matters we can do nothing about and bold, decisive moves in the face of those we can. It serves to clarify the thoughts of many during times of trouble when all is confusion, suffering, and doubt in that it provides an answer — or at least a tool that can be used to help find an answer — to what can be done and what cannot.
It's therefore natural to want to ascribe authorship of something so powerful to an important personage from the distant past. Yet it was not penned by
This simple yet expressive prayer wasn't laid down in antiquity by one of the most famous people of his day; it was instead written in the early 1930s by Reinhold Niebuhr, an American theologian. While its wording has changed across the span of those eighty-plus years between then and now, even its earliest forms are clearly recognizable as the serenity prayer:
O God, give us the serenity to accept what cannot be changed,
The courage to change what can be changed, and the wisdom to know the one from the other
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Barbara "wisdom of the aegis" Mikkelson
Last updated: 13 July 2014
Goodstein, Laurie. "Serenity Prayer Skeptic Now Credits Niebuhr." The New York Times. 28 November 2009. Shapiro, Fred. "Who Wrote the Serenity Prayer?" The Chronicle of Higher Education. 28 April 2014. The New York Times. "Who Wrote the Serenity Prayer?" 30 November 2003 (p. G4).