The above passage, known as “the Serenity Prayer” is one of the most beloved prayers for people in recovery. It is simple and profound at the same time. It is also theologically benign (in its short form) – allowing people of many faiths to share in its message.
There are three things I love about this prayer.
First, I love how the object of the prayer is serenity. It’s not money, relationships, or things – it’s peace of mind. Peace of mind has long been a goal for spiritual seekers. Being serene or “at peace with oneself” is the de rigueur for anyone claiming to have spirituality.
Second, I love how the prayer sets up a formula for peace. If both mental and physical activity is taken, you may be granted serenity. Serenity, it is implied, has a cost. One must change the things they can. Take action. One must also adjust and refine their thinking. Without this physical and mental action combination, there is no hope for serenity.
Thirdly, I love how this prayer, broadly, is a simple ask for help. Requesting help suggests humility – admitting we cannot do it all by ourselves. The ego is put on the back-burner – always a good thing.
This prayer has a long history that has been chronicled in several recent books. The AA version of the prayer has been attributed to theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (who was fashionable at the same time as the founding of AA). The story is a member brought it to the meeting. Bill liked it and immediately started using a modified version at meetings.
It has been suggested that a more basic version of the prayer predates Niebuhr’s version (below). An original version may even go back hundreds of years.
The original version of the prayer brought to AA in 1940 was this:
Father, give us courage to change what must be altered,
serenity to accept what cannot be helped,
and the insight to know the one from the other.
It’s interesting to note the differences in tone in the above from Niebuhr’s version that has a more overt Christianity.
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.
Given those, I like the simplicity and directness of the version we use today:
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.