Serenity prayer

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The serenity prayer is a prayer written by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr , which asks God for serenity , courage and wisdom .


In German the version is known:

  God give me the serenity to accept things that I cannot change,
  the courage to change things that I can change,
  and the wisdom to distinguish one from the other.

Niebuhr's prayer originally asked for courage to change things that need to be changed and not just can be changed:

Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.

In English there are also extended versions by others, e.g. B .:

  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.
  Living one day at a time,
  Enjoying one moment at a time,
  Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
  Taking, as Jesus did,
  This sinful world as it is,
  Not as I would have it,
  Trusting that You will make all things right ,
  If I surrender to Your will,
  So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
  And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Freely translated into German:

  God give me the serenity to accept things that I cannot change,
  the courage to change things that I can change,
  and the wisdom to distinguish one from the other.
  To live one day at
  a time, to enjoy one moment at a time.
  To accept deprivation as a way to peace, to accept
  it as Jesus did:
  this sinful world as it is,
  and not as I would like it to be,
  to trust that you will do everything right
  when I surrender to Your will ,
  so that I may be quite happy in this life
  and happy in the next life forever.


The authorship and distribution history of the Serenity Prayer are disputed. Presumably Reinhold Niebuhr wrote the prayer before or during the Second World War . Reinhold Niebuhr's wife dates it in letters to the year 1941 or 1942, Reinhold Niebuhr himself to the pre-war period. The uncertainty about the exact time of the composition of the prayer is possibly due to Niebuhr's waiver of the copyright for the prayer. Niebuhr presumably knew one of the numerous older forerunners with a similar structure and content.

The prayer is often ascribed to the Württemberg prelate and theosophist Friedrich Christoph Oetinger , but this is due to a confusion of names: The theologian and educator Theodor Wilhelm has published a German translation of Niebuhr's prayer in a book that appeared under the pseudonym Friedrich Oetinger, so that the wrong assignment to the theosophist Oetinger from the 18th century could arise. Dietrich Bonhoeffer , Bishop Franz Hengsbach and the Saints Ignatius of Loyola and Francis of Assisi name other attributions , for which, however, there are no guaranteed sources.


Today the serenity prayer is often found as a motto on everyday objects and in collections of quotations. The widespread distribution after the Second World War is probably related to the self-help groups Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous or Emotions Anonymous , who use the serenity prayer in their literature and speak together at meetings . The AA version differs from Niebuhr's preferred version in one theologically important detail: the AA ask for serenity ( grant me the serenity ), Niebuhr for the grace of serenity ( give us grace to accept with serenity ”) ).

The serenity prayer also appeared in the book Slaughterhouse-Five Or The Childrens Crusade by the author Kurt Vonnegut , which is why he is sometimes incorrectly named as the original author.

In Japan the prayer is known as 平安 の 祈 り (heian no inori: prayer for peace). In cognitive psychotherapy , too , the serenity prayer is sometimes discussed for the purpose of cognitive restructuring .

The prayer is a motto of the Center for Inner Leadership of the Bundeswehr .

Intellectual history background

The spiritual historical background of the prayer is unmistakable. In the very first sentence of his little handbook on morals , the Stoic distinguishes Epictetus :

“One is in our power, the other is not. We have the following to do with: Accepting and grasping, wanting to act, desiring and rejecting - everything that we ourselves set in motion and are responsible for. Not in our power are: our bodies, our property, our social standing, our position - in short: everything that we ourselves do not initiate and are responsible for. "

- Epictetus, handbook of morals , 1

The stoic tradition is also present with Friedrich Schiller :

"Good for people when they have learned to endure what they cannot change and to reveal with dignity what they cannot save."

- Friedrich Schiller, On the Sublime (essay)

The difference between the serenity prayer and stoic thinking is the encouragement to change things that can be changed and the request for the wisdom of discernment.

The 11th century Jewish philosopher Solomon ibn Gabirol wrote in Hebrew in his book Choice of Emeralds (Chapter 17 Conciousness , 2nd verse):

"And they said: At the head of all understanding - is realizing what is and what cannot be, and the consoling of what is not in our power to change."

It is possible that this is a translation of a well-known Spanish, Arabic or Greek text. In the twentieth century, the American philosopher William Warren Bartley contrasted Niebuhr's prayer with a Mother Goose rhyme (1695) expressing a similar thought without comment :

“For every ailment under the sun there is a remedy, or there is none; If there be one, try to find it; If there be none, never mind it. "

In the 8th century, the Indian Buddhist scholar Shantideva of the University of Nalanda formulated a similar consideration:

“If there's a remedy when trouble strikes, What reason is there for dejection? And if there is no help for it, What use is there in being glum? "

Martin Luther formulated in On the Freedom of a Christian Man in the form of an apparent contradiction:

“A Christian is a free lord over all things and is not subject to anyone. A Christian is a servant of all things and is subject to everyone. "

Everyone can regulate things freely and independently in their decision-making area - and yet they are bound by instructions in other areas.


in songs

on sound carriers

  • LP Re-ac-tor by Neil Young (1981): The prayer is written in incorrect Latin on the cover of the record : Deus, dona mihi serenitatem accipere res quae non possum mutare, fortitudinem mutare res quae possum, atque sapientiam differentiam cognoscere.
  • LP Whitney Houston by Whitney Houston (1985)
  • CD Serenity by Blood for Blood in intro and outro
  • CD Heart Songs (2001) by Iria
  • CD yes! (2007) by Iria

in movies

in series

in books

Individual evidence

  1. [1]
  2. You can quote them , Yale Alumni Magazine
  3. a b c d The False Oetinger Prayer or The Serenity Prayer . Württemberg State Library Stuttgart . August 27, 2012. Retrieved May 24, 2013.
  4. ^ Kurt Vonnegut: Slaughterhouse Five Or The Children's Crusade. Dial Press Trade Paperback; Edition: Reissue, January 1999, accessed on November 11, 2019 .
  5. Beate Wilken: Methods of Cognitive Restructuring. A guide to psychotherapeutic practice . 7th edition. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart a. a. 2015, ISBN 978-3-17-026872-2 , p. 79 (with assignment of the prayer to Friedrich Oetinger).
  6. The flag is still blowing . In: Der Spiegel . No. 26 , 1964, pp. 19-28 ( Online - June 24, 1964 ).