Serenity Prayer

Most of us have seen on cards or in a book what has become known as the Serenity Prayer. This page gives the words and background of this prayer, as well as some principles of what we can change and what we need to accept.

The Prayer

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.  

These first four lines of the prayer are especially well known – but the prayer actually continues as follows:

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships 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
Forever in the next.


Background to the Serenity Prayer

Originally written by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in the late 1930s to early 1940s, the prayer may have been a part of a sermon. The original version reads as follows:

God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
courage to change the things that should be changed,
and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.

Researchers believe that the first version of the prayer was quoted from memory in a question to The New York Times Book Review dated July 12, 1942. The query requests the name of the prayer’s author. In reply, the Book Review identifies Reinhold Niebuhr as its author and quotes the prayer as follows: “O God and Heavenly Father, Grant to us the serenity of mind to accept that which cannot be changed; the courage to change that which can be changed, and the wisdom to know the one from the other, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”

The prayer became much more widely known in the 1950s after it was adopted, in its popular version, by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). It has also been used by Narcotics Anonymous and in other Twelve-step programs.

Reinhold Niebuhr’s daughter, Elisabeth Sifton, wrote a book about her father’s famous prayer entitled, The Serenity Prayer: Faith and Politics in Times of Peace and War. In the book, she discusses the story and circumstances around her father’s writing the prayer, the wide range of versions of it, and the true essence of the prayer’s meaning.

The serenity prayer has become one of the most widely known prayers in the world. It touches the hearts of people from all walks of life. Below are a few references to the prayer from well-known writers, artists, singers, and songwriters.

  • The prayer is referenced in Dan Brown’s book, Angels & Demons.
  • The back cover of the Neil Young’s album entitled Re-ac-tor includes the serenity prayer in Latin.
  • Whitney Houston’s debut album, Whitney, includes a reference to the serenity prayer on the back cover.
  • The 1970’s rock group, Boston, sings about the serenity prayer in the song, “Higher Power”.
  • Sinéad O’Connor, the once famous bald singer of the 1990s, references the serenity prayer in her song, “Feel So Different”.
  • Well-known rapper 50 Cent raps the serenity prayer in his song, “Gotta Make It To Heaven”.
  • The soundtrack of the movie, Soul Food, addresses the serenity prayer.
  • Famous 1960’s writer, Kurt Vonnegut, mentions the serenity prayer in his book, Slaughterhouse Five.
  • The serenity prayer has made its way into the game, World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade, where one of the Blood Elves recites it.
  • In 2004, the punk band, Blood for Blood, titled their album Serenity, sings a song about the serenity prayer on track 2, and the lead singer recites the prayer on the first and last tracks of the album.
  • Finally, Olivia Newton John’s album, Stronger than Before, includes a song entitled “Serenity,” and references the serenity prayer within it.


Information adapted from: 


Things we Can or Cannot Change

The following table gives a few principles when deciding what in life to accept and what to work on changing.

Your feelings and moods Your thoughts
Addictions How you take care of your body
The outcome of decisions or pursuits What you do with your day
Any other person Who you invite into your life
Someone else’s opinion of you Your self opinion
Society at large Your character
Nature Home environment
Fate or time and chance Your need to control
God Karma (cause and effect)


Adapted from Kathy Freston, Expect a Miracle: 7 Spiritual Steps to Finding the Right Relationship(London: Bantam Books, 2003), 54.


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