A long time ago in high school, I bought a very small paperback book of 102 short prayers. They were written by Malcolm L. Playfoot, “Sometime Administrator of the Society of the Companions of St. Francis.” A Saint Francis Prayer Book was published by the Society for the Preservation of Christian Knowledge (SPCK) in London in 1941. I carried it with me for years until I lost it. Then in the early 1990s, the book was reprinted and I bought another copy that I carry with me to this day.
The book contains prayers for all sorts of occasions and occurrences in our lives. There is one for “On hearing Bad News,” another “Before reading a Serious Book,” one “Before Going Shopping,” and another for “Square Pegs in round holes.”
The prayer that has most stuck in my mind, ever since I first encountered this book, is the one “For Gentleness in My Dealings.” The prayer, written long before inclusive language was the norm, goes like this:
Grant me, Lord, to be so much thine that I may fitly show thy presence in all my dealings. Give me thy patience, thy sympathy, and thy love, that wherever I may be men may see, not me, but thee.
It is not surprising that this prayer is included in a book inspired by the witness of St. Francis to the Christian virtues and manner of life. Francis endeavored to live his life in imitation of Jesus Christ. At the heart of this manner of life is a certain gentleness and peacefulness.
Each of us is created in the image of God and in the image of Christ. The reminder implicitly posed to each of us by this prayer is that each of us who endeavors to live the Christian life should also reflect the presence of Christ that is within us to those around us, that wherever we may be others may see not [you] but the presence of Christ within you.
In the letter that St. Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, he urges Christians to “Let [their] gentleness be known to everyone”(Phil. 4:5). We find descriptions of what that gentleness looks like in other places in the New Testament. It is, for example, tolerant and willing to take into consideration the opinions of others: “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy”(James 3:17). Living this manner of life, we are also “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone” (Titus 3:2). That is because true, genuine love “does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful” (1Cor. 13:5). Finally, St. Paul sums it up when he writes: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:9-10).
In a genuine Christian community, each person acts with gentleness to the other, each recognizes the presence of Christ in the other, and each reflects the presence of Christ back to the other. This reciprocity of gentleness and kindness, in imitation of Christ, is at the core of Christian ethics. Christian ethics is at its core about how we can act as Christ’s representatives in the world. Gentleness in our dealings with one another is a good place to start.
Try saying this simple short prayer for “Gentleness in my Dealings” each day. See if it begins to change the way you deal with others in your daily life.