Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Reinhold Niebuhr's Serenity Prayer

Reinhold Niebuhr Place is there for a reason.

        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.

Sometimes referred to offhandedly as the Facebook Prayer for it's ubiquitous presence on the social media app the Serenity Prayer is more than one sentence long.

Written by the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr as part of a sermon in the early 1930s, the Serenity Prayer has evolved and devolved over time with many drafts adding and omitting text through the years.

In the days before the Internet the popularity of the Serenity Prayer arose through church sermons and newspaper columns that referenced the prayer without necessarily referencing Neibuhr as the author. During World War II, the Serenity Prayer was included in a prayer book for chaplains and servicemen while the USO distributed Serenity Prayer cards at its functions.

In 1951, the longer version of the Serenity Prayer was amended to read as:

       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.

        Amen.


The Serenity Prayer is also integral to the work of Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve step recovery programs. The further modified AA version of the prayer reads identical to the Facebook Prayer version:

        God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
        the courage to change the things we can,
        and the wisdom to know the difference.

How integral is the prayer to Alcoholics Anonymous? The intersection outside of the organization's world headquarters in New York City is named Reinhold Niebuhr Place.