The Serenity Prayer

The Serenity Prayer has helped untold millions over the years and has become a driving force in the world of addictions recovery. Yet, the actual meaning behind the prayer has nothing to do with addiction at all. The words of this prayer have linked together truths of theology, psychology, and philosophy in an intersection of simplicity and insight, perhaps like no other. The intent of this prayer is ultimately to unlock the process of developing more profound insight into acceptance and change. Regrettably, in our familiarity with the words of this prayer, we may have lost insight into its complexities.
What you need to know about the Serenity Prayer
The Wisdom of Serenity. The Serenity Prayer is not a plea for serenity or what you must do to create serenity in your life, but it reveals a formula or process. Let’s begin by defining serenity. The Merriam-Webster definition of serenity is “the quality or state of being serene” or “the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled” (, 2021). Isn’t that what we want? Yes, we want serenity rather than chaos! Most of us will go to great lengths to avoid stress, and we will even choose a way of escape rather than dealing with conflict. Take a closer look at The Serenity Prayer:
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.

The Way of serenity. Notice the content and order of this prayer:
1) serenity
2) acceptance
3) change
4) courage
5) wisdom
6) knowledge

These are the qualities of a successful life! However, the key that unlocks this treasure-trove of virtue is found first in serenity. “God grant me the serenity to…….” Acquiring serenity creates the capacity to experience acceptance, change, courage, wisdom, and knowledge. Serenity is not the byproduct of this prayer, but rather serenity is the catalyst by which we acquire the entirety of every benefit described in the prayer. This is the way of serenity; the order is key. We must find serenity before unlocking the rest. Of course, this begs the question; how do we then find serenity? Ultimately, serenity comes from God. “God grant me the serenity to….”. Serenityflows from a place of relationship and surrender. In other words, serenity is not the goal or destination, rather, serenity is the place in which your journey begins. (If this is a new concept for you, take a moment to reflect).
The Witness of Serenity. The Serenity Prayer is originally accredited to Reinhold Neibuhr (1892- 1971) but had its origins in earlier writings (Kaplan, J. 2002). Niebuhr was an American Reformed Theologian and professor at Union Theological Seminary in NY for more than 30 years. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) adopted his version of the prayer in the late 1940s. Interestingly, Niebuhr was also a significant influence on the German Pastor and Nazi resister Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Below is the full version of the prayer as originally published.

The Original Full Version 

God, give us the 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.     

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) adopted the prayer and condensed the wording into what we now know as the Serenity Prayer. AA made the message of the prayer a more “nondescript” text to accommodate their all-inclusive approach of a “Higher Power” and “God as you understand him” as not to exclude anyone who would seek help. But the early influence of the Oxford Group and its deep roots in evangelical theology wholeheartedly embraced the full version of the Serenity Prayer.
The Final Analysis: I hope that a fresh look at the Serenity Prayer will help you to better:
1.      Accept the things you cannot change
2.      Find the courage to change the things you can
3.      Discover the wisdom to know the difference
When you look a little deeper into its origin and meaning, you might realize that you can use these concepts in your daily life and deepen your relationship with God on your journey.
 A blog by: Tim Lloyd, Ph.D., D. Min
“Serenity.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 31 Dec. 2021.
Kaplan, Justin, ed. (2002). “Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971)”. Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations (17th ed.). p. 735. (attributing the prayer to Niebuhr in 1943)


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