Kansas Bob this morning has reminded me of the prayer attributed to St Francis (I read recently that it wasn’t, in fact from him, but much more modern) which I have always loved, “Lord, make me an instrument of Thy Peace ..” When I was a uni student (long ago, in another century) the last section of that prayer was one of the things stuck on the inside of my folder:
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
I don’t pretend to have lived up to it, but, despite the criticism I have heard of it in some quarters, it is still my goal. To me it is Jesus’ words “take up your cross and follow me” made personal to my situation. “Bearing your cross” has been a horribly misused phrase among Christians, used to apply to everything that causes pain and discomfort in life, as if pain and discomfort weren’t everybody’s experience in this fallen world. Pain in itself doesn’t make anyone holy, there are plenty of people who use their pain to justify every kind of self-centredness. For instance, most abusive parents are mistreating their children because they aren’t coping with their own pain and take it out on someone smaller and weaker. But pain, of course, can be the plough, that tears up the soil for the fruit of the Spirit to grow.
Much more relevant is the calling to die to self-centredness. Here my own pain becomes, not a demand for your pity, but a doorway to understanding your pain so that I can offer you my pity. It does not diminish my need to be loved (if only ….) but it actually becomes a faith act to entrust my neediness to God while I comfort your neediness. Of course, to broken human beings that can easily turn into a twisted demandingness: now that I have ministered to your need, you are obligated to minister to mine. That, too, is the failure of love. I don’t pretend to have worked out the balance of how our own essential needs are met while we learn to give ourselves away. If all our core relationships are healthy it’s not much of an issue, because people will meet love with love, generosity with generosity. And if the core people in our lives are doing that, it is easier to give ourselves away in free kindness to the rest of the world. Where core relationships are unbalanced, it is a much harder road. But I still believe it is Jesus’ road: not to be a self-righteous martyr in an unjust relationship, but to find a way through to God, from where you can both protect yourself as appropriate and yet give with no thought of return.
We can only become the instruments of His peace, the agents of His kingdom, when we have laid aside the expectation of building a kingdom of our own. We cannot do it ourselves, trite moralism achieves nothing that builds love or hope into people’s lives; it must be a burial of the self into Christ, allowing Him to love through us. Sometimes, in difficult situations, when I have long since run out of any love of my own, I try to see myself as a pipeline through which Jesus’ love can reach that person. Please don’t misunderstand, I am nowhere near success with all of this, I only know what goal I aspire to.
So what does this look like in daily life? On one pragmatic level it can be like the other verse I used to carry inside my uni folder;
I would be true, for there are those who trust me;
I would be pure, for there are those who are;
I would be strong, for there is much to suffer;
I would be brave, for there is much to dare.
I would be friend of all—the foe—the friendless;
I would be giving and forget the gift;
I would be humble, for I know my weakness;
I would look up and laugh—and love—and lift.