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Prayer for the week

11 July 2014

In difficult times, try to think of others' needs, Catherine Pickford suggests - and use these words


Lord, when I am hungry,
give me someone in need of  food;
when I am thirsty,
send me someone needing a drink;
when I am cold,
send me someone to warm;
when I am grieved,
offer me someone to console;
when my cross grows heavy,
let me share another's cross;
when I think only of myself,
draw my thoughts to another.

IN THE final episode of the recent BBC2 comedy series Rev, the vicar, Adam Smallbone, is having a bad time. He has kissed the local head teacher and resigned from his post,and his church has been sold to a property developer. He has taken to his bed in a state of depression.

His wife, Alex, has the unenviable task of trying to help him. Nothing works until she realises that he does not need to be ministered to: he needs to minister. She persuades him to break into the church to celebrate the service of light on Holy Saturday for his congregation. As he does so, there are the first rays of hope that, after his Good Friday, Adam might at last reach his own Easter Day.

I love this prayer, because it recognises the interdependence between those who minister, and those who receive ministry: that, when we give to others, we often receive more in return. Its origins are uncertain. Several attempts to ascribe it to Mother Teresa have been found lacking in evidence. The best guess seems to be that it came from other members of her order.

It is a prayer with soft edges, in that it appears in at least six different variations on the internet alone, suggesting that it is part of an oral tradition. It is a prayer that is prayed.

This prayer helps us to reflect on what it means to give and receive.It also opens up the question what our needs really are, and whetherwe understand them. When I am bound up in my problems, having someone else to think about as well does not sound very sensible, but it is surprising how often it helps me with my own struggles when my thoughts are drawn to another.

When we are under threat, when we are hungry or thirsty or in pain, our instinct often is to withdraw into ourselves, to rely on our own resources. This prayer asks for the grace and the courage to choose the moment when life is difficult to reach out to another person inneed.

When I was at primary school, the vicar told a story in assembly which I have never forgotten. The essence of it was that the people in heaven and hell were all given six-foot-long chopsticks to eat with. The people in heaven worked out that what they needed to do was feed each other, whereas the people in hell went hungry. Thirty years later, I still think of that story. It is a reminder that we need one another to be fulfilled.

This prayer, elegantly and simply, reminds us that God is a God of relationship, and he has made us that way, too. It is only by meeting one another's needs that we have our own met most completely.

The Revd Catherine Pickford is Team Rector in the Benwell Team Ministry, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

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