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The Centering Power of Niebuhr's Serenity Prayer

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

As we start the new year, it might be wise to center ourselves on a perspective that has provided comfort and direction for millions of people since written in 1942—“The Serenity Prayer.”


Though at times attributed to others, used in many variants and never formally copyrighted, most attribute the prayer to Reinhold Niebuhr. Niebuhr was a protestant theologian best known for his work in relating the Christian faith to the reality of modern politics and diplomacy.

Commenting, let me use in three parts the full version that Niebuhr's widow has reported he himself preferred:

“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.”

A University of Michigan study documented that 95% of what people worry about is wasted effort; only five percent of worries are justifiable. Accept what you can’t control and invest your worry time in making a difference on your five percent! After all, much of what is happening today is mostly beyond your control. The deficit, taxes, natural calamities, the actions of terrorists and politicians, and the stock market just dent the surface of the obvious things.

Don’t wait for politicians to act. Focus on controlling the one thing you do control—your choices in how you position yourself for opportunity, improve your performance of your most valued and critical skills and persist in repositioning and retooling as is necessary. Don’t send around resumes for skills that are no longer necessary. Invest 5% of your time in your plan B—developing new skills to match the needs of our age.


Don’t know where to begin? Go to and look at what jobs people are paying independent contractors to accomplish. If you have gifts that can be put to good use, bid on a project and join the world economy one project at a time. If you don’t have those skills, get busy turning your gifts into something people will pay you to do. After all, you become an old dog when you stop doing new tricks!

America voted in November, but you can vote again in 2010 and 2012. President-elect Obama will have an opportunity to put his domestic and foreign policies into action. You are not powerless; stay informed and engage in the political debate our freedom allows. Vote principles and results, not rhetoric!

“Living one day at a time,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,”
Will Rogers loved to say: “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” Avoid analysis paralysis by doing something to make progress every day. Investing in action allows you to earn the optimism that comes from overcoming the obstacles you will face along the way. Don’t run from hardships; face them! The harder the challenge, the stronger your character and the greater the satisfaction will be when you succeed.


Don’t expect the world to be fair, friendly or focused on your needs. Greed and evil exist and will continue to exist. Do your part to overcome evil with good and to be good stewards of the gifts you have been given. Start today to make a difference for yourself and others…one day at a time.

“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.

Self-reliance is a powerful American value, but it has its limits. We need each other, and we need God. Though not politically correct in our secular age, there’s a reason “In God We Trust” has remained a centering principle in America’s unique history. We pray to God and claim His providential destiny, but we remain willing to be used by God in making a difference!

The paradoxical advice attributed by some to St. Augustine, St. Ignatius, Thomas Aquinas and Oprah Winfrey’s father remains insightful no matter who said it first-- “Pray as if everything depends on God. Act as if it depends upon you.” To believers, God remains active in the world. One of the ways God acts is to use the gifts of believers in working His will and making a difference where it counts.


Trusting in one’s ultimate salvation, although reassuring in difficult times, does not preclude the fact that we are to be transformed by our faith now. As John Wooden once said, “If I were ever prosecuted for my religion, I truly hope there would be enough evidence to convict me." Even if others are critical, let your faith show in your attitude and your actions.

As we move into 2009, join me in putting Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer into action—take time for acceptance, constructive action and a whole lot of faith.

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