Where did "The Serenity Prayer" come from?
Used by Alcoholics Anonymous and a very often printed on plaques and cards, the Serenity Prayer is part of our religious cultural fabric, but where did it come from? According to June Bingham, a biographer of Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), it was Niebuhr who first penned the prayer and spoke it in a small church in Heath, Massachusetts.
Niebuhr occasionally preached in the small church near the place where he had a summer home. After a service where he spoke the prayer, a man named Howard Chandler Robbins, a neighbor, asked for a copy. According to the story, Niebuhr handed Robbins the original saying, "Here, take the prayer. I have no further use for it."
Those words do not sound likely but that's how the story goes. Robbins later published the prayer as part of a pamphlet the following year. Since then it has been adopted as the motto of Alcoholics Anonymous; the U.S.O. distributed millions of copies to U.S. soldiers during World War II; the National Council of Churches reprinted the prayer; it's re-printed today in many forms. It often has no attribution, but according to Bingham's biography, Courage to Change, the attribution should go to Niebuhr.
O God, give us serenity to accept what cannot change, courage to change what should be changed, and wisdom to distinguish the one from the other. -- Reinhold Niebuhr, 1934
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