The Peace Prayer of St. Francis is as much a part of my memory of childhood faith formation as the Our Father or the Hail Mary, and the reason why is because I heard it almost just as much. Every time I fought with one of my siblings, my mom’s (I see now as genius) response was to break out in song, and always the same one: “Make me a channel of your peace!”
My mom didn’t sound like Susan Boyle, but she was effective, if not in increasing my siblings’ and my feelings of love for one another in the moment, than at least in creating a more peaceful environment as we fled the scene. The longer we stayed, the more verses we had to listen to, and we knew what came after the song was completed: chore assignments (another one of my mom’s genius maneuvers at discipline. I can already hear myself saying it in the future: “If you are so bored that you have to fight with one another, why not use your time productively and empty the dish rack?”).
While it irritated me to hear the musical rendition of St. Francis’s Peace Prayer in my moments indignant frustration (which characterized my mood surrounding almost all sibling conflict), my mom’s singing drilled the prayer into my longterm memory, and now the song floats through my mind regularly. When I argue with my spouse over our division of household labor, I hear: “Grant that I may not so much seek to be understood as to understand.” When I find myself in the midst of a heated political discussion, I hear: “Where there is hatred, let me sow love.” And when I feel tired at work, and like I just want to shut my door to the clients who wait to see me, I hear, “For it is in giving that we receive.”
The Prayer of St. Francis truly captures what it means to have a servant heart, which to me, is one of the greatest ends to which I am striving as a person of faith. In honor of the Feast of St. Francis (today!), here are three ways that I’m striving to show a servant heart in my everyday being in the world.
Considering how I can be most helpful to othersI would say that, in general in life, I take overarching pathways of helpfulness. I have chosen helping careers (I currently work in faith formation at a church while I pursue a social work degree), an enormous aspect of my vocational calling is motherhood, and being a good friend, sister and daughter are high on my priority list. Unfortunately, I think that because I’m generally helpful, I sometimes let myself off the hook from being helpful in the endless opportunity of small ways that greet me daily. It’s not that I’m intentionally avoiding helpfulness, but rather, that I often fail to respond helpfully in moments when it is needed. For instance, when I’m at the splash pad with my kids and I see my friend walking in with her hands full of a pool bag, toddler hand-holding, the lunch cooler, and more, my first thought isn’t to jump up and help her. In fact, I’m embarrassed to admit, I am really bad at remembering to help in ways like this. I usually just figure that whoever is doing the carrying (whether it be a mom friend with full hands or an older person moving their folding chair) has got the situation under control. But just because someone has something under control doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t appreciate help — or at least the offer for it — and so looking out for needs like these is one way that I’m currently striving to be more of a servant.
Keeping (some of) my comments to myselfOkay, this one is really hard for me. I have an opinion about most things, and while I do a pretty good job of controlling my commentary while I am out in public, or even with good friends, I feel quite comfortable saying every thought that passes through my mind to the people with whom I’m closest — my husband, my parents, my sister. It’s wonderful that I have people with whom I feel like I can be completely myself; it isn’t wonderful that I subject them to my observations and feelings on all things.
Let me give you a simple (if tired) example. We can probably all agree that living with other humans necessitates minor (and sometimes) major disagreements. It isn’t a sign of marriage failure that my husband’s and my habits of cleanliness and routine get on each others’ nerves at times; it’s a sign of our humanity. My husband and I differ in how we typically handle these minor disagreements, however. If I do something that he would prefer I didn’t (not bother to lock the doors, for instance) he’ll wait a few times to ensure that it wasn’t just an accident, and then he’ll say something about the matter calmly. I, on the other hand, have a terrible tendency to comment immediately on everything that annoys me, from his selection of soft drinks from the grocery store to his style of cleaning up after dinner. This is a huge problem; nitpicking and nagging are not qualities of a servant heart. One of the most substantial ways I’m working on cultivating a servant heart, then, is by keeping my comments to myself more often; in doing so, I sow love, pardon and joy, versus hatred, injury and sadness.