"God, give us 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 the one from the other."
There are some prayers which seem to stick with us. Many Collects in the English Prayer Book are like that. They stick with us because they say what we want to say, but cannot say.
The serenity prayer was written by pastor Reinhold Niebuhr in the early 1940's. He called it the "Serenity Prayer" and he often used it when he preached in Heath, a little hill village in Western Massachusetts, where he and his family spent the summer holidays.
On one occasion, a good friend and neighbor, the late Howard Chandler Robbins, who was formally Dean of the Cathedral of St.John the Divine in New York, asked Reinhold for a copy of the prayer. Howard then passed it on to others who also did the same. The Episcopal Sisterhood in Wisconsin printed it on a little card which further spread the prayer throughout the world. Alcoholics Anonymous then took it up as one of their key prayers and so it has become one of the most widely used prayers this century.
The form has varied as it has circulated around, but recently Ursala Niebuhr produced the prayer in its original form. So, what is so special about this prayer?
Of first importance, it is a prayer which is "according to the will of God". That is, it is not a "Father Christmas" prayer - a please give me what I want prayer. It focuses on three blessings: peace, strength, and wisdom. As these blessings are promised in the Scriptures to disciples, we can rightly ask for them.
Peace. The rush of circumstance. The inevitable flood of time and events carrying us in their path, possibly by the hand of God, or just chance. Whatever, let us be at peace within this storm. Give us serenity, a serenity that comes with an acceptance of what cannot be changed.
Strength. How often do we know it right to act, but we are overcome by fear, we hesitate? Strengthen us. Give us courage to change the things that should be changed.
Wisdom. We ship of fools seemingly unable to steer a true path. Oh that we might be wise, that we might see and understand. Give us wisdom, a wisdom that can distinguish between what can't be changed and what can be changed.