Talk:Serenity Prayer

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Ownership of Serenity Prayer[edit]

Has anyone ever made a claim to ownership or copyright of any version of the Serenity Prayer? I have read that Niebuhr never did, but of course the version purported to be his is different from the version put forth by today's 12-step programs.

This version of prayer is surely in the public domain, right?

   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. 

Thanks for your attention, Bluerasberry (talk) 16:21, 10 October 2008 (UTC)

Under the DMCA, all work published in the US after 1923 is under copyright. As such, The Serenity Prayer is not in the Public Domain. jonathon (talk) 20:34, 10 October 2008 (UTC)

General discussion[edit]

I can find no evidence that Niebuhr was ever associated with the "Confessing Church" of German protestants during the Nazi era, nor the "Confessing Movement" of very conservative protestants here in the USA.

The following discussion is closed. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section.

We accept things, not because we agree with what is done to us, but to free ourselves from resentments. It is for purely personal reasons. If someone wrongs me, I accept that there is nothing I can do to change the past and nothing I can do to change the kind of person he is. I accept not for any benifit to him but simply to give myself peace of mind. I can however change my thoughts, behaviors, and actions, regarding the way I react to harms that are done to me. 07:36, 6 October 2005 (UTC)mightyafrowhitey

My take:

I know when I suffer - I am unhappy when the person or thing I want to change won't change to satisfy me, and I can find no peace until I get the change I want. But that is my false belief. It amazes me that at the moment I surrender and accept that I cannot make them change, I find the peace I was looking for. I also see the potential for loving what is, for loving without wanting anything, for loving without conditions.

My false belief, that I am right about how they "should" be, gets in the way of seeing them how they are, and of seeing my own true nature. By inquiring into this belief, my lesson is that they were never the problem, it was only my thinking all along. When I changed my thinking, my whole world changed, and it got a lot more peaceful. That is the wisdom I now have, and I will never go back to believing the lie. 05:38, 13 June 2006 (UTC)12 June 2007 CHOPS

A friend of mine recently cited this quote in response to a question I posed for him. He made the quote inaccurate, and later identified that to me as a "senior moment." I refuted his supposition that he had it wrong, and believe that instead what he wrote was superior:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; Discernment to understand the proper course of action when the occasion arises; and, Wisdom to know the difference.

I think it may need some tuning, but the concepts presented here introduce discernment paired with courage. We may have the courage to know we need to act, but it takes discernment to know what to do with the courage. Thoughts? Vexar theoriginal 13:56, 6 July 2007 (UTC)

Here's my take on it: In this prayer, we are simply asking God to help us accept the past; in other words, not to cry over spilled milk. What's done is done, and from there, we ask God to give us the courage to face our problems head-on: to move on, change what we can, and correct situations that can be corrected. In the third sentence, we want to be given the wisdom to know the difference between the things we can and can't change.

A looser version might read as follows:

God, grant me two gifts: serenity to accept and learn from the past which cannot be changed; and courage to change what I can and move on. And may I gain the wisdom to know which of these two gifts I should use.

As for what Vexar posted, I do like it, although it is redundant. The phrase and the wisdom to know the difference means that we are asking for the ability to discern between what we can and cannot change. MplsNarco 11:34, 28 July 2007 (UTC)

The above discussion is closed. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section.

SP origin[edit]

I find it interesting that the Serenity Prayer origin at Alcoholics Anonymous predates the claim here. Any comments? Rfrisbietalk 16:29, 23 August 2006 (UTC)

I have now thoroughly documented the origin of the prayer. The earlier version of this page was an amazing mess of urban myth and total confusion. Some of it was even comic: the page included the demonstrably false claim that F. C. Oetinger wrote the prayer - and cited as an authority for this a German page that demonstrates that F. C. Oetinger did NOT write the prayer! (The editor who added this obviously was not able to understand the German page.) SerenityPrayer 14:23, 10 January 2007 (UTC)

Unlisted Allusion[edit]

Olivia Newton-John's album "Stronger than Before" has a very nice extended version of the Serenity Prayer on the last track called "Serenity".

Have added it on the basis of this report. Macspaunday 16:46, 6 February 2007 (UTC)

I don't know the origin of this, but..At our 12-step meeting we read the ENTIRE 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. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as the pathway to peace. taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it. Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will. that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen Reinhold Neibuhr 1926

Everything after "the difference" is not by Niebuhr, but seems to have been added sometime after the prayer began circulating. The 1926 date is definitely wrong. The full story is in Elisabeth Sifton's book cited on the main page. Macspaunday 16:03, 20 April 2007 (UTC)


The spurious accounts section describes Boethius as a "stoic philosopher." Stoic should be capitalized, but I don't believe Boethius was a Stoic. The Wikipedia article on Boethius describes him as a Christian philosopher. rkharrison

Quite right. Done. Macspaunday 18:16, 15 July 2007 (UTC)

Maybe he was just very stoic. After all, he did stick to his faith in the face of death. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 16:18, 27 May 2008 (UTC)

An Interesting Notation/Site[edit]

I found this here

Where they talk about many people researching this, but they have references to books, etc. about the prayer and that his 'daughter' even has the 'full prayer' on a page in her book.

I was wondering if you guys could look into this and see if any of this may be needed or added to the article.

Thanks much! Ariyen (talk) 12:34, 11 February 2008 (UTC)

Minor edits??[edit]

There seemed to me to be some inconsisteny in the article as it attributed the prayer to Niebuhr AND stated that Niebuhr attributed it to others (though without a solid reference being given) AND that there is evidence that it predated Niebuhr (the photos of the lodge and the Mother Goose "version"). I can find no mention of Dr Sasser and his photos (again, no reference is given) nor of The Grapevine in Wiki. I've also changed the word "spooking" to "spoken" as it is surely a typo!

I haven't tried to get to the bottom of this, but instead I have taken the easy way out and simply edited the structure of the article in a way that reflects the various possibilities and debunked claims presented. It was either that or delete the contradictory material which obviously I'm not in a position to do.

LookingGlass (talk) 17:15, 20 March 2008 (UTC)

Raeding more closely the article is riven with this dispute, centering as it does on the 1950 article, for which I've provided a link. The result is that the SAME reference ends up being used as confirmation that the original was Niebuhr's AND that he himself says that it isn't. I'm trying to join the AA to get access to the articles and sort this out but at the moment it won't take my credit card!!!! Grrr (talk) 18:10, 20 March 2008 (UTC)
The AA have now posted me both the articles. Niebuhr was in regular contact with the AA but the articles aren't a lot of help and I'm trying to get primary source data from them. I've added a bunch of other references including to the "alternative" theories and in particular regarding Dr Sasser. I've made enquiries of Cincinatti. There appears to have been a deliberate attempt to distort this article by truncating a quote of Niebuhr's. I have edited the article to contain the full quote and reorganised the text accordingly. Hopefully all this will at least give a reader an overview even if it remains a bit of a mess. If I get any more info I'll input it. I've also corrected the vague reference to the origin of the SP with AA from their own records.
LookingGlass (talk) 21:43, 20 March 2008 (UTC)
The Mother Goose version simply points out that the substance (but not the form) of the prayer has at least one literary parallel, which is unsurprising and doesn't diminish the interest of Niebuhr's version. It would be interesting to find others. --Macrakis (talk) 22:24, 20 March 2008 (UTC)
Another literary parallel is found, perhaps more succinctly than the original in "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you might find you get what you need" - this incompasses the immutability of inaccessible desires (and by implication, the need to accept this), and the need to step out and try sometimes anyway. Of course, it doesn't say much about wisdom, but wisdom has fallen out of favour these days anyway.

I wonder if the well-known spoof "Grant me the serenity to accept what I can't change, the courage to change what I can, and a big bag of gold"[citation needed] warrants a mention? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 16:22, 27 May 2008 (UTC)

Church affiliation of early mentions[edit]

The article previously indicated that early usages were from women with no church affiliation, with the implication that such usages were distant from Niebuhr's circles. However, it then went on to say that the first known usage was by a woman who worked for the YWCA. Though the YWCA is not associated with any particular church within Christianity, it is an organization with strong religious ties (especially at that time) and the statement is thus misleading - doubly so since Niebuhr frequently lectured at the YWCA. I have removed the clause about no church affiliation for this reason; if someone wants to rewrite, clarify and replace it, I have no objection. hgilbert (talk) 17:42, 13 June 2009 (UTC)

I agree with taking it out. When I added the part about the YWCA/YMCA and Detroit, I did not want to give it undue weight by also removing the "no apparent church affiliation" statement from the previous edit. What that phrase actually means, I think, is that the prayer was being quoted in non-church contexts. Even that isn't entirely true, because one pre-1943 example was from a Sunday School column. Rose bartram (talk) 12:02, 14 June 2009 (UTC)


It would be helpful to have a section documenting the secular versions. However, these cannot merely appear on blogs and websites, but should have appeared in print and achieved some formal recognition. In addition, we should be careful about terminology; the formulation is secular, not atheist, as they avoid the question of a deity rather than deny its existence.

Finally, as far as I can understand, any formulation that includes the word "Grant..." is implicitly calling upon a higher power. I'm open to alternatives here but can't see any off-hand.

The section should be re-written addressing these concerns - including verifiable references. hgilbert (talk) 19:02, 2 September 2010 (UTC)

I disagree that something needs to be in print or documented to be useful. These words of wisdom are not facts that can be verified, they are opinions and viewpoints, all of which have a place in a community built place. Insisting that they be documented and verified seems only to be a justification for leaving out the secular references. I have seen many sections in wikipedia and wikiquote of "unverified" references. I have no problem stating that the references have not "appeared in print and received some formal recognition" (whatever that is), but they need not be deleted simply based on that fact. If they are useful to people, why leave them out?

"should have appeared in print and achieved some formal recognition." It is my understanding from reading the wikipedia policies that this is not the standard for inclusion. For the many people struggling with recovery and other issues, these words are very useful. Rather than engaging in a constant edit/revert process, I am turning to the Meditation Cabal for assistance in resolving this issue.

Kenyonsf (talk)14:21, 4 September 2010 (UTC)

User:Kenyonsf requested informal arbitration from WP:MEDCAB on this issue, specifically asking for a third opinion about the standards required for citing "words of wisdom". I have provided the requested opinion in the case here. I'll keep an eye on that page, and this page, to see if anyone has questions or would like further mediation on the topic. In a nutshell: Yes, citations are required; yes, the version most recently posted has issues; however, some previously rejected cited versions may be acceptable with relatively minor edits to the article. // ⌘macwhiz (talk) 21:01, 13 September 2010 (UTC)

"Pop Culture References" section[edit]

I have boldly deleted the "Pop Culture References" section, pursuant to the WP:IPC guidelines. All entries in that section failed the three-prong test of the guideline.

  • Of the four references, only one cited a reference. That one exception cited IMDB, which is not considered a reliable source, because the trivia section has no editorial oversight.
  • None of the references indicated that the subject acknowledged the existence of the reference—if that's even possible in this case.
  • No real-world events have been established as occurring due to the references.

Any IPC references should be notable under the guideline; Wikipedia is not an indiscriminate collection of information, and trivia such as "the prayer was said in this movie" does not belong in an encyclopedia article. // ⌘macwhiz (talk) 15:46, 3 October 2010 (UTC)

It is mentioned in Slaughterhouse-Five. Is that notable? --phocks (talk) 12:57, 24 October 2010 (UTC)
Quoting from WP:IPC:
"However, passing mentions in books, television or film dialogue or song lyrics should be included only when that mention's significance is itself demonstrated with secondary sources."
The fact that the Prayer is mentioned in a particular book is not, in and of itself, noteworthy. If, however, the book's use of the Prayer was so noteworthy that it was particularly mentioned in critical reviews or academic research regarding that book, then it might be considered noteworthy. Alternatively, if some notable real-world event occurred because of the reference to the Prayer in the book, and that connection is properly documented in secondary or tertiary sources, that might make it worth noting. // ⌘macwhiz (talk) 21:23, 24 October 2010 (UTC)

Extended Version Attribution?[edit]

Why is the extended version included at the top of the article without any mention of where that version came from? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 04:25, 25 October 2010 (UTC)

The extended version seems to me to be very modern, and should be put into its own section, rather than looking like the original is a condensation. And there's no attribution. htom (talk) 01:48, 10 December 2010 (UTC)
Indeed the present presentation is rather biased. There is more than one extended version circulating. So why give this version this special status? It is surely not by Niebuhr. It should be cited later on and with reference.Imeanit (talk) 13:34, 1 January 2011 (UTC)

Native American origin claims[edit]

Any chances that the prayer might have been used by Native Americans as a girlfriend of mine thought - my first encounter with it was a post-it on her wall quoting it as such. It started in that version with 'Great spirit' and not God. (It might have been used by Karl May in Winnetou, I guess, but it could come from Sitting Bull...)

It's the Cherokee Serenity Prayer according to the listing of 10 American Indian Prayers at — Preceding unsigned comment added by PieterJansegers (talkcontribs) 16:37, 16 April 2011 (UTC)

Is there any record of it being used by the Cherokees before it became known through Niebuhr? It has spread in many directions since the mid-1930s. hgilbert (talk) 19:52, 16 April 2011 (UTC)

Written form wording[edit]

A recent edit changed

...Niebuhr wrote the prayer for use in a sermon, perhaps as early as 1934.


...Niebuhr included the prayer in written form in a sermon in 1943.

I am not sure what "included the prayer in written form" is supposed to mean. Does this mean that he had his own personal written notes? that the sermon was distributed in written form in 1943? The whole paragraph is rather unclear, but this passage is especially unclear.... --Macrakis (talk) 22:31, 13 June 2011 (UTC)


Where is the resemblance to Thomas More's prayer? Merely that the latter asks God's help to mend his ways? This is common to many prayers. hgilbert (talk) 13:00, 3 January 2012 (UTC)

Adult Children of Alcoholics Version[edit]

Frequently used by ACA

God grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change,
Courage to change the one I can, and
Wisdom to know that that one is me.

Article Is Contradictory[edit]

This article is incoherent. It starts by stating that the earliest known written version of the Serenity Prayer was in 1943, then later refers to documentation back to 1936. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 02:36, 26 August 2012 (UTC)

Yes, documentation of oral versions. hgilbert (talk) 02:47, 26 August 2012 (UTC)

I'm not quite sure what the significance is of the difference between printed versions that report on oral sermons and printed versions that don't explicitly refer to oral sermons but were results of oral sermons. The 1944 publication is, according to Elisabeth Sifton's inaccurate book, a reproduction of a 1943 oral sermon. My point is that the Wikipedia article starts out by following the inaccurate Sifton account, then later presents the factual documentation going back to 1936.

A more serious flaw in the article is in the second paragraph of the first section, where, introduced by the words "The original, attributed to Niebuhr," we find a mishmash of the much later "grace to accept with serenity" version preferred by Elisabeth Sifton and the much later "long version" that no serious historian of the Serenity Prayer associates with Niebuhr. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 11:29, 26 August 2012 (UTC)

Best-known form - "the wisdom" vs "wisdom"[edit]

The article as it stands now says that the version listed here is the "best-known form." I'd like to dispute that!

A Google search for "and the wisdom to know the difference" has 4.7 million hits, while a search for "and wisdom to know the difference" (no 'the') nets only 3,190,000 results. Which leads me to believe that the actual best-known version includes the 'the.' Kind of nitpicky, but I think it's worth changing. What do y'all think? Babylonian007 (talk) 21:01, 28 February 2013 (UTC)

I almost always see this written as:

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.

Only "serenity" is preceded by "the," which is odd. When spoken, in my experience, "courage" and "wisdom" are almost always also preceded by "the."

It is also worth noting that the AA book "Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions" contains a plural version with "we" and "us." (p. 125) Pilgrim144 (talk) 07:41, 19 March 2013 (UTC)

Other extended versions[edit]

Years ago, I saw a wall hanging that added to the most-common form (approximately) "but grant me the determination to keep working toward what I believe is right, even if I believe it to be impossible". It seems to me that doesn't contradict the rest, because what is impossible for one person, may yet be possible when we act together! (I just wish I could find it again, because I'm sure this from-memory version is wordier.)

Another nice extension that I don't know the authorship of is: "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; grant me Patience with the changes that take time, Appreciation of all that I have, Tolerance of those with different struggles, and the Strength to get up and try again, One Day at a Time." DPD fics&pics

Regarding the "Cultural use" Section[edit]

The section is currently a mess thrown into a paragraph. Should I reorganize it into a bulleted list sorted by media type (i.e. song, book, movie, etc.), or is this against Wikipedia's guidelines? EpicWolverine (talk) 19:32, 12 March 2014 (UTC)

Go for it. HGilbert (talk) 23:45, 12 March 2014 (UTC)
Done in this edit. EpicWolverine (talk) 18:15, 29 March 2014 (UTC)

Attribution to Niebuhr[edit]

The attribution to Reinhold Niebuhr now appears to be solid, see the latest evidence from Fred Shapiro. I'm tied up over the next few days, but perhaps someone can edit the article accordingly. John M Baker (talk) 21:45, 15 May 2014 (UTC)

Good catch! I've added some material, but the chronology needs reordering now. HGilbert (talk) 02:24, 16 May 2014 (UTC)

Recovery Use[edit]

Since this is an unreferenced section that duplicates previous contents (that themselves contain references) in the same article, I am removing it. (I'll add a header to the relevant section so that it is clear such information exists). — Safety Cap (talk) 15:03, 16 June 2014 (UTC)