Word For It. . .

2Chronicles7:14-“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

Serenity Prayer, History and Versions

Posted by wordforit on September 25, 2007

When I bought the plaque pictured below, I did not realize it had such a full history for a piece that has not been around long, as time involving great works goes,  and has been used as widely as the Serenity Prayer has.

In the interest of finding out more about the author’s name at the bottom of the plaque, I began looking for information. As the content behind the links I offer will show, this was not simply a minister’s sermon publicized in toto…

Word for it: in toto~ in all; completely; entirely; wholly. 

Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) is attributed for writing the Serenity Prayer, several books, and other insightful quotes directed at human nature in all of its glory and folly. However, true authorship of the Serenity Prayer is debated. 

See: OriginofSerenityPrayer (all links open in new window)

R. Niebuhr conceded that the Serenity Prayer may have been around for years, but truly believed that it originated as a tag-line at the end of a sermon he had prepared.

Regardless, R.Niebuhr authored several works of theological and ethical merit worthy of a second look. 

ReinholdNiebuhrWorks    Reinhold Niebuhr

A couple of his quotes I thought were profound and applicable to any era: 

“Evil is not to be traced back to the individual but to the collective behavior of humanity.”

Follow that thought with: “Democracies are indeed slow to make war, but once embarked upon a martial venture are equally slow to make peace and reluctant to make a tolerable, rather than a vindictive, peace.”  Thanks to BrainyQuote 

 Alcoholics Anonymous Mantra

In 1942 (?), a member of New York’s AA chapter saw the Serenity Prayer in the obituary section of the New York Herald Tribune. He brought the caption to the attention of staff and they were immediately enthralled.

With the Serenity Prayer as the mantra for Alcoholics Anonymous, one could guess that the prayer earned an ingrained standing in a literary context because it has been printed on wallet-sized cards, coffee mugs, key chains, plaques, and many other items.  Reinhold Niebuhr, however, never received royalties because it was not copyrighted. Furthermore, it is thought by those who have researched that the Serenity Prayer has been around for centuries, perhaps in different forms and R. Niebuhr expanded the tenet.

Following is an excerpt from AA’s (history) website which changes the wording of the Serenity Prayer somewhat (but is not the one they pray worldwide):  

“God give me the detachment to accept those things I cannot alter;
the courage to alter those things I can alter;
and the wisdom to distinguish the one thing from the other.” 


The question becomes, do I want to be detached? Detached is good in that the emotional and psychological cost is much less. Conversely, to ask God for serenity is the same as asking for the peace in my soul He offers. How about a little detached serenity?

I learned quite a lot in looking for the author of the Serenity Prayer. If you don’t document your work, you cannot claim credit. Alcoholics Anonymous is a much different and larger organization than I realized. Also, AA has an interest in prisoners that I want to look in to more thoroughly. More than anything and as always, I learned that I have a lot to learn!

Add’l sources:


I hope the Serenity Prayer has meaning for you. It is a reminder of acceptance and that I cannot be concerned about what is neither important nor in my jurisprudence. God is in control. Whether another reader agrees is for each to sort out and that is one of the joys of introspection!


God, grant me the Serenity

to accept the things I cannot change,

courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time,

enjoying one moment at a time,

accepting hardship as the

pathway to Peace.

Taking, as He did, this sinful world

As it is, not as I would have it;

Trusting that He will make all things

right if I surrender to His will;

That I may be reasonably happy

in this life, and supremely happy

with Him in the next.


Attributed, Reinhold Niebuhr

Serenity Prayer                                                                                 


5 Responses to “Serenity Prayer, History and Versions”

  1. Colin said

    That’s a great quote. At the moment Im dealing with a rough breakup. The only thing that i can change is the way that I feel!

  2. Odale said

    I am truly sorry you’re hurting and will include a prayer for your heart to mend. You’re right, though, that the only thing we can change is ourselves and hope it has a positive affect on others.
    When considering relationships gone sour, it has always been to make way for improvement in my life, as long as I give it to God. Patience is a virtue I continually strive for!
    I am interested in how it goes for you. God Bless You and Keep You Strong!

  3. marlajayne said

    Thanks for sharing the history of this popular and extremely relevant (to everyone’s life) prayer. I didn’t know there was more to it than the original three requests so I appreciate your posting that as well. “Reasonably happy” in this life is something we can all aspire to. No one promised that life would be a bed of roses just because a person is a Christian.

    I recently tried to figure out this seven word phrase in which each of the words had four letters. The clue was that it contained wisdom for the ages. The phrase? “Into each life some rain must fall.” Anyway, I can handle a little rain plus some thunder and lightning if I can be “supremely happy” in the next. How about you?

    Colin, a family quote popularized by my son is “No matter how dark the night, morning always comes.” He got it from a video game! Truth shows up in the strangest places sometimes.

  4. Odale said

    I had to have that plaque when I saw it! Yes, to be supremely happy in the next is the goal! It’s a challenge to resist trying to “set things right” when it’s not possible for us, but it is for God.
    btw, marlajayne, the spirituality and alternative healing link might interest you. Your Marianne Williamson is in there! Look under “Prose, poems, prayer…” on the right when the page loads. Lots of good stuff!

  5. Heather said

    There is an alternate version of the second verse, which I personally find more meaningful to me:

    Grant me patience with the changes that take time,
    An appreciation for all that I have,
    Tolerance for those with different struggles,
    And the strength to get up and try again,
    One day at a time.

    This was written on a beautiful piece of artwork at a friend’s house. Unfortunately, there was no source for this author.

    I hope that you find this as inspirational as I do!

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