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Give me the wisdom to know the difference quote
February 14, 2019 Anniversary Wishes No comments

You have the power to change far more than you realize about yourself, your life and your fortunes.

Reinhold Niebuhr > Quotes > Quotable Quote

“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 hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He 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 Niebuhr
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Serenity Prayer – Applying 3 Truths from the Bible

give me the wisdom to know the difference quote

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Readers of this column know that I have been studying the “Serenity Prayer”—the most famous and beloved of all modern prayers—for some time. In this magazine, I’ve written primarily on its authorship (most recently in January/February, concerning new evidence that the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr ’14BDiv, ’15MA, was indeed the likely originator). But questions have also been raised about its wording. Specifically: did Alcoholics Anonymous “dumb down” the Serenity Prayer?

Much of the prayer’s worldwide popularity is due to AA. In the mid-twentieth century, AA adopted the prayer as a part of its culture of recovery, and it remains a mainstay today. AA’s version runs as follows: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things that I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Reinhold Niebuhr’s family, however, prefers a different text: “God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”

His daughter Elisabeth Sifton, in her book The Serenity Prayer(2003), presents this “grace” text as her father’s preferred version. In the book, she roundly criticizes AA for modifying the prayer. “Their version frames the prayer in the first-person singular,” she notes. It also “omits the spiritually correct but difficult idea” of praying for grace. And furthermore, “courage to change what should be changed becomes, in the AA rendering, simply courage to change what can be changed.” She adds:

Goodness me, just because something can be changed doesn’t mean that it must be! More important, … there are circumstances that should be changed yet may seem beyond our powers to alter, and these are the circumstances under which the prayer is most needed. The shift in the text reduces a difficult, strong idea to a banal, weak one, and I suspect that this dumbing down of the prayer has contributed to its enormous popularity.

Niebuhr did use the family’s preferred “grace” version in a 1984 article, published posthumously with a note that it dated from 1967. And “grace” may have had a long pre-1967 history in his unpublished use.

Yet there is strong evidence that Niebuhr also used a version much like AA’s. Family accounts agree that he delivered the prayer in a church service in Heath, Massachusetts, in 1943, and afterward gave a copy to a neighbor. Sifton assumes in her book that the 1943 prayer was the family’s preferred version. However, the neighbor, Howard Chandler Robbins ’99BD, had asked permission to include Niebuhr’s prayer in his Book of Prayers and Services for the Armed Forces. The text he printed reads: “Give me the serenity to accept what cannot be changed, / Give me the courage to change what can be changed— / The wisdom to know one from the other.”

This prayer uses first-person singular; it omits “grace”; and it asks for courage to change “what can be changed.” Clearly, these elements cannot be credited to or blamed on AA.

But there is a still earlier formulation, printed in 1937 in a religious periodical and attributed to Niebuhr. It reads, “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.” This version lacks the idea of “grace,” but otherwise has the elements Sifton and her family prefer. And it asks for courage before serenity, which seems fitting for a theologian whose life embodied great courage on many levels. 

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The Serenity Prayer and the Meaning of TRUE Acceptance

give me the wisdom to know the difference quote

“In 2017, I was invited to lead a mindfulness workshop and guide a live meditation on Mingus Mountain, Arizona, to over 100 men and women at a recovery retreat. On the eve of my workshop, I had the opportunity to join in a men's twelve-step meeting, which took place by the campfire in Prescott National Park Forest, with at least 40 men recovering from childhood grief and trauma. The meeting grounded us in what was a large retreat with many unfamiliar faces. I was the only mixed-race Brit, surrounded by mostly white middle-class American men (baby boomers and Generation X), yet our common bond of validating each other's wounds in recovery utterly transcended any differences of nationality, race and heritage. We shared our pain and hope in a non-shaming environment, listening and allowing every man to have his say without interruption. At the end of the meeting we stood up in a large circle and recited the serenity prayer:

"God grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know that one is me".

After the meeting closed, I felt that I belonged and I was enthusiastic about the retreat, even though I was thousands of miles away from England.”
― Christopher Dines, Drug Addiction Recovery: The Mindful Way


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 More Quotes on Change.

Serenity Prayer Quotes

give me the wisdom to know the difference quote

(RNS) In 2008 I made the front page of The New York Times by asserting that the greatest American theologian of the 20th century probably did not originate the most famous and beloved prayer of the 20th century.

The theologian was Reinhold Niebuhr. The prayer was the Serenity Prayer, commonly quoted 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.”

Its adoption by Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs has propelled it to worldwide renown. I now am able to report that I have uncovered new evidence establishing to a high degree of confidence that Niebuhr did originate the Serenity Prayer.

My initial assertion questioning Reinhold Niebuhr’s priority engendered considerable controversy and was strongly contested by Niebuhr’s daughter, the eminent publisher Elisabeth Sifton.

Sifton’s 2003 book “The Serenity Prayer” featured a specific account of her father’s writing the prayer for a Sunday service in Heath, Mass., in 1943. In no less than 13 places, she characterized Heath as the place and time of composition.

It is because I relied on her story that, when I discovered eight instances of the prayer’s being printed in newspapers and books between January 1936 and April 1942 — none of which mentioned Niebuhr — I concluded that he appeared to have drawn unconsciously on earlier versions of unknown authorship.

The year after the Times story, Stephen Goranson of the Duke University Library posted a message on the American Dialect Society’s Internet discussion list stating that he had found an occurrence of the Serenity Prayer in a 1937 Christian student newsletter, which referred to “the prayer attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr.”

I quickly contacted the Times editors and alerted them that, in my view, Goranson’s discovery had significantly increased the likelihood that Niebuhr was, indeed, the original author. The Times then published a second front-page story reporting my reaction to the new information.

In “The Yale Book of Quotations” I edited, I had applied techniques of computer-assisted research to trace the provenance of famous quotations and proverbs. When, in the course of that work, I came to one of the most celebrated of all sayings, the Serenity Prayer, I found examples of its use back to 1936 by searching ProQuest Historical Newspapers, NewspaperArchive and Google Books.

After the articles in The New York Times and Yale Alumni Magazine, I enhanced my repertoire of electronic resources with additional newspaper archives.

By searching, I found that the Santa Cruz Sentinel of March 15, 1933, quoted Winnifred Crane Wygal: “Oh, God, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and insight to know the one from the other.”

The newspaper gave as its source an article by Wygal in The Woman’s Press, a publication of the National Board of the YWCA. I was able to verify that article, “On the Edge of Tomorrow,” in The Woman’s Press of March 1933. The wording there was the same as in the Sentinel: It appeared as an epigraph and Reinhold Niebuhr was discussed, but no connection was made between the prayer and Niebuhr.

Although she did not link up prayer and theologian in her article, Wygal was clearly associated with Niebuhr. A biographical note about her from the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women at Harvard states that Wygal did postgraduate work at Union Theological Seminary, studying there with Niebuhr and Paul Tillich.

Wygal did make the crucial connection in her 1940 book, “We Plan Our Own Worship Services.” On Page 25 she wrote, “‘O God, give us the serenity to accept what cannot be changed, the courage to change what can be changed, and the wisdom to know the one from the other.’ (Reinhold Niebuhr).”

That attribution by Wygal might in and of itself be viewed as the final confirmation of Niebuhr’s coinage. There is an even stronger confirmation, however, located at the Schlesinger Library in its 14 volumes of Wygal’s diaries, which, at my request, the library generously assigned a staff member to skim, looking for references to the Serenity Prayer.

Schlesinger’s staffer, Sarah Guzy, struck gold when she read Wygal’s diary entry for Oct. 31, 1932.

Wygal wrote there: “R.N. says that ‘moral will plus imagination are the two elements of which faith is compounded.’
‘The victorious man in the day of crisis is the man who has the serenity to accept what he cannot help and the courage to change what must be altered.’”

The second of those Niebuhr quotations does not fully match the components of the tripartite Serenity Prayer, lacking the “wisdom” or “insight” element, but definitely does include the elements involving “serenity” and “courage.”

The 1932 partial Serenity Prayer is the data point that clinches the argument for “R.N.” (Reinhold Niebuhr) as Wygal’s source for the prayer and as its originator.

Many of the early occurrences of the prayer were in YWCA contexts; Wygal, a longtime YWCA official, is a highly plausible disseminator for those YWCA usages. Beginning in 1937, other commentators ascribed the origination to Niebuhr, including an attribution in a booklet titled “Prayers for a Busy Day,” published by the YWCA in 1938, and there were no competing claims of authorship until some years later.

Perhaps now we can be serene knowing that the long-standing dispute over who wrote this beloved prayer has at last itself attained serenity.

(Fred Shapiro is an associate library director and lecturer in legal research at Yale Law School and editor of “The Yale Book of Quotations” from Yale University Press. This is an abridged version of an article that appeared in the April 28 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education.)


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The prayer was the Serenity Prayer, commonly quoted as follows: "God grant In the Yale quote compilation that I edited, I applied the same.

give me the wisdom to know the difference quote
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