The Serenity 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.

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.

A prayer suited for our times – when it seems we can not do enough to change the course of events, because we cannot – is the “Serenity Prayer.”

This prayer (in its shortened version) is best known from 12 Step Programs. It has a longer history than commonly known, however.

Composed by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), the Serenity Prayer was known in various versions widely. A renowned Reformed preacher, Neibuhr was including various versions in his sermons as early as 1934.

Reinhold Niebuhr was an American Reformed theologian and ethicist, who was also a leading public intellectual who wrote and spoke frequently about the intersection of religion, politics, and public policy, with his most influential books including Moral Man and Immoral Society and The Nature and Destiny of Man. The latter is ranked number 18 of the top 100 non-fiction books of the twentieth century by Modern Library. The historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. described Niebuhr as “the most influential American theologian of the 20th century,” and Time posthumously called Niebuhr “the greatest Protestant theologian in America since Jonathan Edwards.” (Excerpt from Wikipedia)

Use of the longer prayer spread rapidly, often without attribution to Niebuhr, during the 1930s and 1940s. It was adopted and popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 Step programs which were coming into being concurrently. The Serenity Prayer appeared in a sermon of Niebuhr’s which was included in the 1944 edition of A Book of Prayers and Services for the Armed Forces, while Niebuhr did not himself published a final version of the (longer prayer) in 1951 in a magazine column. (Source)

One reason this prayer is particularly helpful during a time of pandemic and upheaval is that it speaks to how we, the more fearful or unsure we become, often overcompensate by trying harder, doing more, pushing ourselves (and others) in a flawed expectation that we can change what we cannot change, or change what we must accept.

The Serenity Prayer, as a practice, is a way to focus our efforts where we can have an impact – and to bring ourselves into a trusting relationship with God that can restore a good, right, holy order in our lives no matter how much tumult or uncertainty surrounds us.

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