I search, as always, to go outside of myself.
I could rattle off the countless ways that I feel stretched and maxed out, but doing so would be taxing and exhausting for you as much as it would be for me, so I’ll spare it. I’m tired – we’re all tired in some way, body or soul. The truth is that there’s no escaping tiresome circumstances because they’re a constant in life. I can trace occasions of feeling spent even as far back as middle school, through high school and college, engagement, marriage, motherhood, and I’m certain it’s in my future. Looking back at different trials, one part I played fairly consistently was the Damsel in Distress. What a PITY party I would throw myself! and you know I wanted everyone to come! What I’ve learned, however, is that though I can’t circumvent the circumstances that wear me so thin, I can dodge the feeling of oppression and self-pity that sours my disposition.
My dearest friend Erin recently reminded me of The Prayer of St. Francis. On vacation with her family, one member of which is a priest, Erin and company prayed this prayer following Mass each day and she enthusiastically marveled over the refreshing perspective it offered:
Lord, make me a channel of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
This was not the first time I’ve been introduced to this prayer. I prayed it when I was little and my American Government teacher prayed it with us, the students, at the beginning of each class in high school; but I suppose that it had become dull to me over time and increased familiarity. I reread the prayer and I’m happy to pray it often now because it gives just the shift in perspective that I need.
The theme of the whole thing is humility and charity; The entire first stanza asks for the grace to be true imitators of Christ to others, offering peace, love, forgiveness, etc. to those we encounter; what could be more humbling and glorious than that? And the second involves seeking to do for others what we often selfishly seek for ourselves: “Grant that I may not so much seek…to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love…” In light of this prayer, it almost amuses me (mostly embarrasses me) how many times I wondered if my husband was giving me enough attention, or if he was even trying to understand my point of view, or if he was practicing spousal servitude enough – me me ME. I’m sure I could identify a million other situations when I was put off by someone’s behavior simply because I made it about ME.
What I’ve discovered is that praying The Prayer of St. Francis meaningfully safeguards the soul from feeling offended and it is my shield against cruel words from others and selfish thoughts in myself. If a person acts or speaks against me, it is either because of some hardness in his/her heart or it is in truth. If the first, then The Prayer of St. Francis moves me to compassion, understanding, and prayer for my fellow man; but if the second, then I pray that I would humbly accept correction for any misbehavior on my part. Of course, I’m far from perfect at this new approach, but God’s grace knows persistence.
I believe I’ll always be learning over and over again that a life lived for others is abundant and full, while the opposite inevitably results in misery. St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us!