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The Meaning And Origin Of The Serenity Prayer

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Deepen your trust and confidence in God with a new perspective and understanding of the words and origin of the Serenity prayer.

The Serenity prayer is a popular acceptance prayer, both amongst believers and unbelievers. You can find it on Christian merchandise like stickers, clothing, and bags. A framed version of it also makes for great baptism or first communion gifts.

With the amount of traction it’s gathered over the years, it’s important for us to also properly understand what the words mean. By the end of this article, you should have fully explored where the serenity prayer originated from, and what it truly means.

The prayer is based on four virtues; serenity, acceptance, courage, and wisdom. 

What do they mean to you reading this, and how can you apply them in your life? Let’s take a closer look.

  • Serenity.
image of black woman praying with the text Serenity prayer: origin, meaning and printable

Serenity is a synonym for peace and tranquility, the opposite of anxiety. It isn’t affected by the things that go on around us, good or bad. It is a type of peace that is constant even in the unstable chaos of the world. 

Looking at everything going on in the world today, it can sound a bit too good to be true. But serenity is something that can be developed with God’s help and a lot of practice.

It is actually more of a perspective than it is a virtue because it comes from a place of acceptance. 

  • Acceptance.

In the context of this prayer, acceptance means letting go of the things we can’t change. A lot of people spend a lot of time obsessing and worrying over the things they have no control over.

Worrying does nothing but make us more anxious. The Bible itself tells us that by worrying, we can’t even add a day to our lives, rather we even shorten it.

Living with the reality that there are things that we can’t turn around with our actions, helps us develop serenity. Focusing on the ones that we can do something about is where we need courage.

  • Courage.

In this prayer, courage is the strength we need to tackle the things that are within our reach. When we are faced with an obstacle, there are two types of approaches we can have towards it. We can either feel sorry for ourselves or swing into action to change the things that we have control over.

This doesn’t mean that we won’t be faced with fear. But courage is the ability to make moves regardless of the fears in our hearts.

  • Wisdom.

In the current context, it is the ability to discern between the things that we have control over and the ones we don’t.

Sometimes, things like doubt and anxiety, and self-pity can cloud our ability to differentiate between the two. 

For example, if you have a family member who constantly demeans you, although you can’t control their actions, you can control how you respond. If you’re having financial difficulties, you also have some level of control over your spending and savings habits. 

Whatever circumstance you are faced with, differentiating between the two is key to having peace. When you can constantly shift your focus to working on the things you can change about an issue, instead of mourning the ones you can’t, that’s serenity.

Origin Of The Serenity Prayer

The first question people usually ask is, “is the serenity prayer in the Bible?” 

Well, it is not. Though it is popular in Christianity, the Serenity prayer isn’t written anywhere in the Bible

The words of this prayer were written by Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr, an American theologian and ethicist who lived from 1892-1971. 

Dr. Niebuhr penned the words in his diary, which was maintained by his student Winnifred Crane Wygal. The prayer first surfaced in newspapers in the 1930s. Then in 1940, Winnifred Wygal placed a slightly changed version in a book of worship.

With such wisdom and depth packed in its short lines, it’s not surprising that the prayer gained such popularity. In 1941, a member of the Alcoholics Anonymous fellowship found it in the obituary section of the New York Herald Tribune and shared it with the rest of the group. 

One of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, William Griffith Wilson, loved the prayer so much that he gave a copy of it to the members. From then on till now, the Serenity Prayer has been used in the fellowship’s recovery circles as well as many rehabilitation programs around the world. 

Later in 2004, Elisabeth Sifton, Dr. Niebuhr’s daughter, also gave the prayer’s background in her book “The Serenity Prayer: Faith and Politics in Times of Peace and War”. 

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Full Serenity Prayer

This prayer says,

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can, 

and the wisdom to know the difference.”

The original version Niehr wrote says,

“O God and Heavenly Father grant to 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.”

The alternate version, which is more Christian in nature says,

“God, give me the 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 one from the other, amen.”

Meaning Of The Serenity Prayer

To finally draw a picture of the meaning behind the words of this beautiful prayer, let’s take each line of it.

“God, grant me serenity…”

Here we ask God for peace. The type that isn’t affected by the world. In response, John 16:33 says,

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” 

Jesus lets us know that we will have trouble in this world. Hard times will come, but in Him, we have peace. 

 ” …to accept the things I cannot change…”

Here we ask God for the strength to trust Him. It is true that it is hard to admit that we can’t change certain things. 

But after accepting that our abilities are limited, we are comforted by the fact that where our control ends is where His begins. We have an advantage with God. So it is when we hand over everything to Him and begin to rely on His plan for our lives that we can truly have peace. 

“…the courage to change the things I can,… “

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Here we ask God for the grace to rise above our fears and take action when we can. He not only takes control of what we can’t but also supplies the strength we need to do our part. He understands that we are human and have weaknesses. So He becomes our strength and helps us rise to the challenge, whatever it may be.

“…and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Here we ask God to help us discern where our control ends and where His begins. When we do, we’ll be able to let Him take the wheel and have true peace.

Click to print the Serenity prayer below.

image of leaves with the serenity prayer for the post on serenity prayer meaning


When we speak the words “God grant me serenity” from our lips to God’s ears, bearing its meaning in our minds makes it heartfelt. 

The Serenity prayer has been especially useful for persons in recovery from addiction. But it is a prayer for anyone and everyone, especially those struggling with situations beyond their control.

The prayer is a constant reminder for us to live one day at a time, and not be anxious about tomorrow or anything else because God is in control.

You may enjoy one of these related gifts with the Serenity Prayer:

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