The Serenity Prayer

The Complete, Unabridged Version and Its History

Group Holding Hands
God, Grant Me the Serenity... © Getty Images

Brilliant in its simplicity, the Serenity Prayer is one of the key spiritual tools used by virtually all 12-step recovery support groups. This is the adaptation that's generally used in these groups:

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.

The Serenity Prayer's Significance

Sometimes referred to as "the AA acceptance prayer," the Serenity Prayer is usually recited at the beginning of almost all 12-step group meetings, and, at many meetings, at the end as well.

For so many people in desperate situations—seeking peace, strength, and wisdom—these simple words, whispered to a God as they understand him, have seen them through their darkest hours. They have come to believe that these qualities can come only from a power greater than themselves. And because they believe, they find the serenity, courage, and wisdom they seek from somewhere outside themselves to face another situation, another step, and another day.

Although literally millions of people both in and out of the recovery community have been helped and strengthened by those few lines, few are aware that they are actually the first stanza of the entire prayer as written in the early 1930s by Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr, an American theologian, philosopher, and longtime dean and professor of Applied Christianity at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

The History of the Serenity Prayer

There has been much controversy over when and by whom the Serenity Prayer was penned, but it looks like the debate is finally over. Though Reinhold Niebuhr is now undisputedly the author, it's unclear exactly when he wrote the most well-known and beloved prayer of the twentieth century, though it seems to have been around 1933.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) adopted the prayer in 1941 when an AA member saw it in The New York Tribune and asked the AA secretary at the time to see if it could be printed in distributable cards. She wrote to another AA member who was a printer, sent him the clipping, and asked him how much it would cost to print some wallet-size copies up. The printer liked the prayer so much ("I can’t recall any sentence that packs quite the wallop that that does," he said), he sent 500 cards to her and the prayer became a permanent part of AA's history.

The Complete Serenity Prayer

Here is the unabridged Serenity Prayer:

God, give us grace to accept with serenity
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.

Amen.

by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

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