The Serenity Prayer: A Brief History

History of the Serenity Prayer

Michelle Rosenker

August 22, 2019

Within the recovery community, there are countless sayings that are used to offer encouragement and understanding, or provoke thought and action. From everything to “keep it simple” to “this too shall pass”, those in recovery utilize words to continually inspire them to better themselves along their journey.

While some sayings are more popular than others, there are few more applicable and well-known than the serenity prayer:

“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.”

However, for the 85 years since this prayer has been in existence, the way in which it is spoken, read, and utilized has changed.

Origin of the Serenity Prayer

The serenity prayer itself was written by a theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who reportedly used it in sermons as early as 1934. However, the earliest known recording of the serenity prayer was found in a diary of a person known as Winnifred Crane Wygal, a student of Niebuhr’s.

History does not favor much information about the origin of the serenity prayer itself, or when it made its way into circulation, but early variations of the serenity prayer include the following:

“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.”

“O God and Heavenly Father, grant us the serenity of mind to accept that which cannot be changed, courage to change that which can be changed, and wisdom to know the one from the other, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”

“Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.”

The 12-Step Groups

As the serenity prayer grew in popularity, a member of one of the first Alcoholics Anonymous groups saw it used in a newspaper obituary and shared it with Bill W., the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. Bill W. and other members of AA adapted the wording and included it in all meetings. In reference to the prayer itself, Bill W. was quoted as saying, “Never had we seen so much AA in so few words.”

The 12-Step group gave credit to Niebuhr for the prayer in The International Journal of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1950. Today, AA still credits Niebuhr as the author of the serenity prayer on its official website.

What Does the Serenity Prayer Represent For People Today?

  • The serenity prayer is a grouping of words that provide wisdom to those in all stages of treatment and recovery. That wisdom, which helps to implement emotional strength and intelligence in those who use it, can serve as a guiding light for one’s recovery. Not only does repeating a positive prayer such as this help guide individuals towards bettering themselves, but it also helps provide them with a path that they can continually follow on their road to recovery.
  • In support group meetings for those in recovery from addiction, the serenity prayer is usually recited either at the beginning or the end of the meeting. One of the reasons for this is that this prayer can help to instill hope for those who are feeling hopeless and even in those who are hopeful but who are in need of a refresher. Having something to help encourage holding on to hope is pivotal in recovery, and the serenity prayer does that for many people.
  • Sticking to recovery is not as easy as some people think, but rather it takes quite a bit of work. When the serenity prayer is referred to throughout one’s recovery, it serves as a reminder as to what they are trying to accomplish. They are not working on themselves for the benefit of others, rather for the benefit of their own psychological and spiritual wellbeing. Utilizing the serenity prayer as a mantra for recovery can help individuals maintain their dedication to their program and their lives.

The Serenity Prayer in Pop Culture

The Serenity Prayer is not exclusive to 12-Step groups and church services. In fact, it has become a common household saying and is widely used on mugs, wall art, journals, and keychains. The prayer has permeated so many different groups of people that it continues to be something people incorporate into their days as they drink their morning coffee or when they go to grab their keys. It is a reminder to embrace inner peace, empower oneself to do what he or she can within healthy limits, and utilize smarts and skills to move forward in the journey of achieving their personal serenity and success.

Reach Out to JourneyPure Elizabethtown

 Addiction is a disease that can not only disrupt your life, but also cost you your life. As you continue to use, the risks you face grow more threatening, which is why reaching out for help as quickly as possible is imperative.

If you are struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, contact JourneyPure today. We can help you get started on the road to recovery.