The original “Serenity Prayer” is attributed to theologian-philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr (1892 – 1971). It appeared in oral form some time in the 1930s, and by the late 1930’s, other authors were attributing it to Niebuhr. Niebuhr himself did not publish it until 1951.
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.
A later version of Niebuhr’s:
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.
In 1941, an AA member brought the prayer to the attention of AA co-founder Bill Wilson (1895 – 1971), and the AA staff liked the prayer so much that they incorporated it into their program. AA always cites Niebuhr as the author. Other twelve-step programs have adopted it as well.
Both of the version above are given in what we might call “prayer form” (“God, grant me the serenity …”) but the entire piece could be said in “affirmation form” or “blessing form” (“May I have the serenity …”) The Serenity prayer has analogs in other traditions, including in a passage of Shantideva’s Way of the Bodhisattva.
Mike’s Version of the Serenity Prayer
I have reflected on this prayer for several years, and over time, I have expanded it. I felt it was very important to add the word “responsibility” to the prayer, and I wanted to balance this proactive responsibility with a deep sense of acceptance, mirroring the balance of the original. I say this version every day. I am presenting here in “blessing form” but it could also be written in “prayer form.”
May I take deep responsibility for all the consequence of my actions, both intentional and unintentional.
May I take deep responsibility for my emotional states.
May I take deep responsibility for everything I control and everything over which I have some sort of influence.
May I accept complete surrender in all those aspects of life in which I have absolutely no control or influence.
May I cultivate tremendous trust and acceptance wherever my control and influence end.
May I relax into the deep vulnerability of human life.
And between what I control and what I do not, what I influence and what I do not, may I have the wisdom, the courage, and the insight to know the difference.
About the author: Mike McGarry is one of the Directors of the East Bay Healing Collective. He leads the Monday night Heart of Light meditation.