Jesus, when you were on earth,
you had friends
who were especially close to you.
You knew what it was like to enjoy
you also knew what it was like
when they deserted you.
Please keep my friends
in your care.
Help me to be a good friend.
Anonymous, from the Lion Book of Children's Prayers
Sitting on my bookshelf is a well-used book of prayers with
photos displaying 1970s fashion, its pages worn and crumpled. On
the inside cover is a bookplate on which I have written my name. It
must have taken me some time to write so neatly.
This book of children's prayers has remained centrally among my
growing collection of resources for practical ministry. I may not
reach for it every day, but it is within my field of vision, and I
glance at it often. Some of my most enjoyable and profound
experiences have been in school assemblies and at pre-school Easter
and Christmas services, more recently accompanied by the real star
of the show, Chris the Camel.
Being with the next generation - sharing, teaching, and enabling
their faith to grow - is one of the most important things that I
have done, I believe. Even my large inflatable CMS squeaky hammer
has enabled me to talk to children about the manual labour of the
Apostle Paul (my doctoral topic).
This prayer, written from a child's perspective, may appear
simple in tone to sophisticated grown-ups, but at its heart lies a
profound evocation of part of the Gospel story of Jesus's life.
Jesus called his disciples; they followed him; they spent days and
nights with him; they endured all sorts of ups and downs; they let
their fears get the better of them, and deserted him; they saw
Jesus executed on the cross; and yet, beyond that, they
encountered the light and glory of the resurrection.
There is a well-known passage in John's Gospel in which Jesus
predicts his own death, his laying down of his life for his
friends, and follows this by telling his disciples that they are
not his servants: they are his friends. It is a passage that, like
this prayer, focuses on love, commitment, perseverance, and joy.
We are reminded that life is not lived out in isolation, but in
love one for another, and in friendship. Yet, in an age where
social media allows us to befriend or de-friend each other, perhaps
we have lost something of the richness of the meaning of
Signs of vulnerability are important hallmarks of the Christian
life. Prayer can make us vulnerable because, as we delve deep into
our desires and concerns, we encounter God, from whom no secrets
are hidden, with open hearts.
The evocation of the shadow of the cross in this prayer is a
stark reminder of the isolation that Jesus must have felt. We may
well be critical of the disciples, Jesus's friends who abandoned
him in fear and utter sorrow, but what would we do in such a
But the shadow of the cross was replaced by the light of the
resurrection. In our lives, we work with these seeming opposites:
darkness and light, death and life, hatred and love. Such opposites
are often displayed in our public media, and run deep in human
experience. Yet it is God who is present in the spaces that lie in
between the journey from death to life, from darkness to light, and
from hatred to love. These spaces are God-filled, not empty and
As we pray to be a good friend to others, we can give thanks for
the friends who have sustained us in times of sorrow and of
The Revd Dr Helen-Ann Hartley is a Dean of the College of St
John the Evangelist, Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand.