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.
Thy will, not mine, be done.

The provenance of the Serenity Prayer seems not to be certain. In Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age. A Brief History of A.A., the following paragraphs are devoted to it.

Just before Ruth [Ruth Hock, a nonalcoholic and A.A.’s first National Secretary] left [in early 1942], a news clipping whose content was to become famous was called to our attention by a New York member, newsman Jack. It was an obituary notice from a New York paper. Underneath a routine account of the one who had died there appeared these words: “God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

Never had we seen so much A.A. in so few words. While Ruth and I [Bill W.] were admiring the prayer, and wondering how to use it, friend Howard walked into the office. Confirming our own ideas, he exclaimed, “We ought to print this on cards and drop one into every piece of mail that goes out of here. I’ll pay for the first printing.” For several years afterward we followed his suggestion, and with amazing speed the Serenity Prayer came into general use and took its place alongside our two other favorites, the Lord’s Prayer and the Prayer of St. Francis.

No one can tell for sure who first wrote the Serenity Prayer. Some say it came from the early Greeks; others think it was from the pen of an anonymous English poet; still others claim it was written by an American naval officer; and Jack Alexander [a befriended journalist of early A.A.], who once researched the matter, attributes it to the Rev. Reinhold Niebuhr of the Union Theological Seminary. Anyhow, we have the prayer and it is said thousands of times daily. We count its writer among our great benefactors.


Taken from Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age. A Brief History of A.A. (New York 1957), p. 196. Copyright © 1957, 1985 A.A. World Services, Inc. All rights reserved.
The Serenity Prayer is now found in A.A.’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (New York 1953), p. 41 and p. 125, and in Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (Boston 1986), p. 77; the Prayer of St. Francis in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 99.