This is a popular prayer you may have encountered many times. Where did it originate?
It was written by the American Theologist Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971). Reinhold Niebuhr's aim to relate Theology to everyday life definitely succeeded with the popularity of this little prayer. Niebuhr's serenity prayer was being used as early as 1934 and was introduced to Alcoholics Anonymous in a modified form by one of their members around 1941.
The word Serenity comes from the Latin serenus, meaning clear, bright and unclouded. It is asking God to give us a calm, trusting Faith to accept the things that life throws at us that are out of our control. It is asking for faith during the many times in our life we need to be reliant on Gods grace to find peace. The suffering of Illness and death are typical examples.
Not all of the misfortune of ourselves and society is out of our control. Initiating personal and social change takes courage. To rid the world of its worst abuses and transform society can seem like a scary, insurmountable task. Courage is also required to face the change needed within ourselves through transformations of our heart, thoughts and habits which are only achievable by the recognition and acknowledgement of our sins. It takes courage from God to fight, persevere and to win against such fear.
Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.
(Isaiah 41:10, KJV)
How can we hope to recognise what we can and cannot change? By asking God for wisdom. This wisdom allows us to handle life without the enormous distress of fighting things which are out of our control. This wisdom also stops us ignoring and accepting things which we are capable of influencing and improving, creating a better world for ourselves and others. This wisdom allows us to act in ways which are fruitful and pleasing to God.
The commonly seen wording for the serenity prayer is not the prayer in its entirety.
The original, attributed to Niebuhr, is:
God, give me 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.