For many years, I wore a medallion around my neck. I do not remember where the medallion came from and how I ended up with it. It was an oval shaped medallion about an inch and a half long and an inch wide, plated in sterling silver. On the face of the medallion, there were the most serene set of hands praying with what appeared to be robed sleeves hanging from the wrists—a comforting portrait. On the reverse side of the medallion, the following inscription was engraved…
God 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.
The medallion is no longer in my possession, but I spent countless hours meditating on the saying. The silver wore off right down to the bronze metal underneath, but the words never wore down. I clung to the statements creeds during hard times, and there were many. I sought inspiration and affirmation through the few lines of profound verse when things were well. Like my life, the medallion has moved on. I no longer have the piece of metal, but the inscription is forever etched into my heart. After investing a good portion of my life considering what the words mean to me, this is what I have concluded.
“God,” the Almighty, the creator of the Universe, the Supreme Being. “Grant me the Serenity;” bestow upon me a calm heart, create in me calmness and trust that You and You alone are powerful enough to carry my burdens. “To accept;” not to doubt, nor to question Your divine motives, “the things I cannot change;” the matters, which destiny and fate has placed before me. “The courage;” much more than bravery, an infinite fortitude forever upholding Your honor, “to change the things I can;” to allow within me an attitude of graciousness and humility to establish and accept the challenges of change. “And the wisdom;” the acumen, the caution, and the discernment, “to know the difference,” not to presume, nor to fabricate, but to separate and distinguish doubt from truth and to embrace Your truth everlasting.
You can imagine my surprise after having spent years of my life pondering over the words on the medallion the day I realized the person who wrote those words, Reinhold Niebuhr, was a past student and President of Elmhurst College, the college where I attended my undergraduate studies. The legacy of Reinhold Niebuhr lives on today at the campus of Elmhurst College. The original “Serenity Prayer,” as it is known, was a little different than we know it to be today. It was originally delivered by Reinhold Niebuhr, in his native language German, at the conclusion of a sermon in 1943. Incidentally, I wrote my response to the Serenity Prayer prior to examining Reinhold Niebuhr’s original prayer. It is remarkable how closely related the two concepts of thought are alike, despite the exclusion of three-quarters of the original words.
Below is the English translation of the original closing Serenity Prayer as delivered by Reinhold Niebuhr.
God, give us 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.
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.