Prayers for helping professionals: St. Francis’ Prayer

A couple of months back my husband and I decided to adopt a few short prayers for certain times of the day.  We decided to go with the Lord’s prayer in the morning, St. Francis’ prayer midday, and use a liturgy (commonprayer.net) together for the evening, or open prayer.

According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prayer_of_Saint_Francis) the earliest written manuscript of this prayer was published in a French Catholic journal in 1912, and likely was not penned by St. Francis.

Its inclusion into our daily prayer rhythms was suggested by my husband.  I was hesitant to add it because I have always found its content quite difficult.  I balk at a prayer that is all about taking action for others as much of my life is spent supposedly in that direction.   Aren’t we supposed to emphasize God’s love and grace for us rather than focus on performing deeds? There are so many cautions in our modern-day about giving too much to others.  In the helping professions there is a constant emphasis on “self-care”.  This prayer, in contrast, seems like an invitation to burnout to those in the field.

However, today, unlike most days, I remembered to pray in the afternoon a few minutes before I had a counselling appointment with a client.  It was in those moments of prayer that I let go of my disdain for this prayer and I saw that this was the perfect prayer for helping professionals.

Each line contains a purpose for our encounters with people; they are not idle or random moments but defined moments of grace for God to work through as his instruments of his peace.  As a counsellor preparing to meet someone with depression I pray that through the grace of God (and my training and preparation) that where there is darkness there will be light, and where there is despair there will be hope.  Meditating on such concrete concepts helped orient myself from theory and practice to faithfully entrust this client to God’s hands.

In that moment of being fully present to someone, at its core, is an opportunity for deep healing for another person rather. This is in contrast to it being just another opportunity to meet our needs or our skill or knowledge.   As we do this, like the last few lines of this prayer describe, we realize that through this process of dying to ourselves and giving of ourselves we do find life and receive.

As someone who helps others, how does this prayer make you feel, does it speak to you or feel inauthentic?

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9 thoughts on “Prayers for helping professionals: St. Francis’ Prayer

  1. I agree with you on this reflection April. The St. Francis prayer can seem like an overly other-person oriented and self-righteous prayer when you first read it. But it isn’t like that at all as you pray it in during the day. I’ve found it causes me to become mindful of the dynamics of my day (interactions with people, what I’m spending my time and thoughts on) while I’m in the midst of them, and to helps me to re-centre myself on the virtues and priorities of Christ.

  2. Thank you for another insightful entry! I have a few thoughts in response- things that are kind of in line with our conversation on campus a couple of weeks ago.

    You wrote, “Aren’t we supposed to emphasize God’s love and grace for us rather than focus on performing deeds? There are so many cautions in our modern-day about giving too much to others”

    I agree that there are many cautions about giving too much these days. Yet I wonder how many of us are burned out because of giving to others. I would suggest that our modern pace of life, the mind-frazzling proliferation of technology, the requirement to navigate complex systems, the time-pressure of modern expectations, and perhaps that sense that our work is having little effect in the face of enormous social problems each play a role in creating “burnout”.

    From a spiritual perspective, none of those aforementioned factors is a requirement of faith. They are simply trappings of our culture and difficult to resist.

    I am note sure that we are supposed to emphasize “God’s love and grace for us rather than performing deeds”. That speaks to the point that Christianity is not a self-help program. It is difficult to resist the self-focus that our “me” generation is awash in. When I look at scripture, there is a definite focus on grace as a MOTIVATOR of good deeds and service to others.

    Ephesians 2 says:
    “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”

    So we are saved by grace, not by works. Yet there is an expectation that we will respond to grace with works! We were created to do good works!

    James 2 says:
    “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead….You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone”

    Philippians 2 says:
    “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others”

    So the bible unequivocally, through command and example, asserts God’s expectation that those calling themselves followers of Christ should “deny themselves and take up their cross daily”. St. Francis prayer is good in the sense that it is tempered and balanced. He never says, “Grant that I may never seek to be consoled”. Rather he says “not so much seek”, which I think denotes a spirit of balance with the scales tipped toward an others-focus. 1 John 3 says: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers”

    Laying down one’s life is an act of faith in response to Christ’s love. I think you summarize this nicely when you say “As we do this, like the last few lines of this prayer describe, we realize that through this process of dying to ourselves and giving of ourselves we do find life and receive.” The rewards are endless, though we will not receive our due in this life other than the satisfaction of seeing others turn to Christ and knowing that we have honoured God with our lives.

    • Sean, I think you have summarized the inherent dilemna that we face as Christians working with people. How do we wrestle and discern the wisdom of our disciplines with the wisdom of our faith? How do the aims and purposes of our work align with our idea of healing and being witnesses of Christ?

      There is a term “compassion fatigue” which I believe does have its merits as, for example, a friend of mine who works overseas experienced with victims of torture and violence – hearing the stories of trauma can cause burnout. However, I do agree that “burnout” is thrown around too easily. I think you got it right- so often we bump up against a system made of of boundaries and technology that meaning that as a social worker I may do a lot more managing information than helping people.

      An additional problem is that as we give, our society teaches us, we should see results – immideately. That is the way science works as well- you do an experiement to prove or disprove a hypothesis which determines the result- but ultimately an experiment can oly measure a small part of what’s going on as the whole is too difficult and vast to measure as we see in our research class and much of the results we get are based on shaky validity, reliability, and various rules and assumptions that most often not kept.

      In our work we want to see results. My supervisor asked me “if she’s not better why does she keep coming to see you?” I said, she likely wants someone to care for her in a safe environment- seeing that and not that she is not cured of her symptoms and having the privelege I have in caring for her puts a Kingdom of God lens in my work.

      As a Christian living among the poor I see this in myself- for 5 years I’ve been living in a poor area of our city, but see few tangible results. The results we do see would likely be nothing I could print in a newsletter or magazine. For example, we are still a small congregation of about 20 people but now 50% of the people are “poor” or “marginalized” and before most people were priveleged. People have started to pray for each other. We know each other better and some are growing in their love for Jesus. People still relapse, people are not all healed, people are still poor. So in that way it is hard to keep going and easy to feel discouraged to continue on in the way of St. Francis.

      But I have found over the years that I have found caring, or being with people who have different needs or interests me is not very draining anymore-it is simply a way of life.

      It is interesting that you reference the Phillipians 2 verse as I had just meditated on it the other day and noted how much life is very much driven by selfish desires. It is an especially good one to bear in mind as I enter the work force as I’m really wary that my life will be driven by desires of success, being known and respected, and money.

  3. I recently took a ten day course that qualified me to supervise ministry internships with the United Church. The course was at a Catholic retreat centre in St Albert, AB and was a fabulous experience. There were 12 students and 5 facilitators. About half, or a little more, were clergy and the remaining, lay leaders. Part of the supervision is to include “theological reflection”. I felt a little, well more than a little, intimidated by this. I don’t always feel comfortable expressing myself this way. It turned out I do this in my work a lot. Only I call it spiritual reflection. I respind to what the client needs, and use their language. I have learned that everyone has spiritual issues, and these issues are expressed in different ways. During one of my practice sessions, my facilitator suggested I could have offered “pastoral care” to my “supervisee”. That was an interesting concept for me, and something I continue to reflect upon. My fellow group members were exceptionally good at using prayer to summarize the session, and to offer support to the other. That is something I now want to work on. I know that pastoral care will have different meanings for each client. I also have to give myself more pastoral care, and also be more open to receiving it.

    Thank you for this thoughtful post!

  4. Thanks for your comments and sharing on your journey of integrating the pastoral with counselling. You are right it is inevitable a part of people’s lives as they search for meaning. Ultimately even as we use tools like Cognitive behavioral therapy we are tapping into people’s core beliefs about the world and themselves which touches on people’s spiritual understandings. Blessings on your work and involvement with your church!

  5. I recognize my personal tendency to give 1000% (that’s 4 zeros) when someone is in need, tending to deny myself the pastoral care I need. Sadly, this is how the prayer of St. Francis has hit me in recent years: total burnout. But I’m becoming aware of the subtle message (pointed out by Sean) that St. Francis uses the phrase “not so much to be consoled as to console”–implying balance that tips towards others. Great concept, Sean!

    April, thank you for encouraging me to use prayers to center my attention on God’s higher purpose and unlimited resources for the social work profession.

    • Hi Kim,
      Thanks for your comment!
      I know how you feel (about giving a lot). One thing I just thought of as you commented was how the prayer emphasizes a quality, rather than a quantity of deeds, character or accomplishments. Sometimes we may need to do less with more (love, patience, etc). Just a thought:)
      April

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