Seventeenth Century Nun's Prayer
Lord, thou knowest better than I know myself that I am growing older and will some day be old. Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and on every occasion. Release me from craving to straighten out everybody's affairs. Make me thoughtful but not moody; helpful but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom it seems a pity not to use it all, but Thou knowest Lord, that I want a few friends at the end.
Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point. Seal my lips on my aches and pains. They are increasing and love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by. I dare not ask for grace enough to enjoy the tales of other's pains, but help me to endure them with patience. I dare not ask for improved memory, but for a growing humility and a lessening cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.
Keep me reasonably sweet; I do not want to be a saint-some of them are so hard to live with-but a sour old person is one of the crowning works of the Devil. Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places and talents in unexpected people. And, give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so.
A leader in the church used the above prayer over the weekend to reinforce the notion that as we age there is a tendency to offer up our advice in all situations, even when it may not be needed or appreciated. “Release me from craving to straighten out everybody's affairs.” But I like the addition, “helpful but not bossy, With my vast store of wisdom it seems a pity not to use it all…” All of us have important information and wisdom we can bring to challenges that face individuals and groups. The trick is to find a way to offer this in a humble way and not to offer it when a) it really does fall outside our skill-set and b) we don’t end up as the person in the group who sounds like the “know-it-all”. No one likes a know-it-all. I also like the advice in this prayer, “Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point.” In many meetings I attend the tendency to “go small”, to “go into the weeds” is such that instead of dealing with the larger issue involved we argue about the colour of carpet.
But my favorite part of the prayer by far is, “Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places and talents in unexpected people. And, give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so.” So often as we age and get cranky there is this inherent contradiction between wanting everyone to pay attention to us and our genius and on the other to pay so little attention to those around us who know more than us and who know differently than us. How I yearn to hear someone tell me, “You know I thought I really understood this but then I heard Bill share his wisdom and I have a whole new appreciation for what can be done.”
People sometimes equate the loud person with the boastful person and the quiet and meek person with the humble person. I frankly don’t see that. Most people are quiet and meek and most of them assume they already know everything they need to know. Humility is less about one’s volume and more about one’s openness and awareness of one’s real shortcomings.