I wake one morning this week and drag my feet to the kitchen where the coffee is waiting to be poured. I plop down into the chair in the living room and open the Henri Nouwen book I’ve been rereading, Life of the Beloved. My husband looks up from his phone where he’s been catching up on the morning news and tells me about the Las Vegas shooting that happened the night before. I’m speechless, as I always am with these tragedies. There are no words. There are no explanations. This just is, brokenness here on earth. I return to the words on the page in front of me, noticing that my heart is beating a little bit faster than before, anxious to find out the details that will soon be uncovered – how many deaths, how many children, parents, loved ones gone. How many people waking up to hell on earth.
I take a breath and continue to read. The author references to the Prayer of St. Francis, “Lord make me an instrument of your peace, where there is hatred, let me sow love…” and the words stay with me as I move throughout my morning. I finish as much coffee as I can before it turns cold and I pour the rest down the sink. I turn on the kettle to make oatmeal for the boys and by the time I’m dressed the water has boiled and I pour it over the oats, stirring in the peanut butter and maple syrup. Make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. What comes next? There is this strong urge in me to learn the rest of the prayer. I do a quick google search and find the full text. I head to my bedroom to finish getting ready and in between swipes of mascara and blush I read the first verse:
Lord, make me an instrument 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;
where there is sadness, joy.
How simple the words are, how easily they roll off of my tongue as I clear the breakfast dishes and load them into the dishwasher, change my son’s diaper and get him dressed. But there is something deeper, like buried gold, hidden in this verse. It takes the heartache I see all around me, and with great care it wraps this pain into a package that I can hand over to God. The words bring focus to my heart. Instead of feeling helpless I do the most important thing I can do. I ask God to make me more like Him.
Because I know that brokenness doesn’t just live outside my country, not even just outside my walls. The tension between good and bad, ugly and beautiful, dark and light, lives inside of me, too. Inside of me there grows hatred and doubt, despair and sadness. I need to sow the good not just around me but within me as well, where the bad can easily spread like weeds. My heart is a garden that needs consistent tending, and it needs this prayer as much as our hurting world does.
Light cascades in through the kitchen window and across the countertop, it dances on the cutting board full of vegetables I’m chopping for tonight’s chicken soup. I keep on repeating the prayer quietly to myself, glancing at the words on my phone when I’ve forgotten them.
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 repeat the words as I zip up my kids’ jackets and pull on their mittens. What are you saying, Mommy? Who are you talking to, Mommy? I say the words while I wipe their noses and put their snacks in bowls and sweep the floor and stir the soup and stop their fights. I watch the leaves swirl above them outside as they roll around on the grass. I laugh at their silliness. By now I have the first verse memorized.
And I know it’s not about having all of the answers, or trying to make something happen, or waiting for a bolt of lightning and a voice from Heaven to speak to me. Everything is still ordinary. I am just me, at home, folding socks and wondering what it is I need to do with my life. But I know that right now this is the most important thing I can be doing. Stirring the soup. Making the biscuits. And saying the words that matter most of all. Make me an instrument of your peace. I need these words as much anyone. I’m as broken as the woman behind bars, the man at the homeless shelter. We all have sinned. We all fall short. I’ve just responded to Grace and I’m fighting to stay there. Broken glass can still shine so brightly when it’s put in front of the light.
At dinnertime we gobble up the soup and biscuits dunked into the warm broth. The boys head to bed in their footed pyjamas. We take it slow, with snuggles and books, a bottle of milk. For the smallest things always become the biggest things when we are, once again, reminded of the brevity of life.
I return to the living room and watch out the window as the sky fades from rosy pink to black. Life is beautiful and brutal all at the same time, I am learning. And if I don’t add to the good, what good am I?
For me, this prayer is that small thing that will become that big thing. This is how we change. This is how goodness blooms. When we welcome into our hearts the gentle but persistent, strong but soft, hidden movement of God.
Can we be patient enough to pursue Him?