The Prayer of St. Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
After the genocide, I suffered terribly from missing the presence of my parents, my brothers, and my grandparents; I never knew that the quality of their unconditional love would not exist elsewhere. Losing it, not from one of them, but all of them at the same time, left a huge emptiness in my heart, only long prayers and conversations with God could convince me that I was taken care of. Once, someone who heard my story told me words that surely came from God and comforted me a lot. He said, “You don’t seem broken as many survivors, but what you are missing is the affection of your loved ones, which can be as hurtful as anything else.” And then he said, “However, in God’s infinite wisdom, what you are lacking you can still get. There are two ways, you can get it: by giving it, especially to those who need it most, the orphans, the sick, the homeless; or from people who can love you genuinely.” He also said something that was very meaningful, “However, you can’t order people to love you unconditionally. You might be lucky to have those kind of people come into your life, but you don’t have to wait, the most sure way is the first one, to give that affection to those in need. That you can control!”
From then on, I started to go to visit the children of the Mother Teresa orphanage, and I played with them, danced and sang with them. The wise man was right: my heart was full of joy and love. What amazed me is that he told me to give it to those who need it most if I truly want to experience unconditional love back! My friends laugh at me when I tell them that God is very smart and truly very kind; you see, He told us to love one another as the greatest commandment. He knew how important this was, and how much we would need to love one another to be able to live this life. This was for our sakes, and so is everything He tells us in the Bible, I mean everything! He is like a parent who tells you to eat vegetables when all you want is cookies for dinner. As children, we don’t know, we just want to get what we like, not necessarily always what is good for us.
This prayer of St. Francis is like a quick summation of the messages of the Bible for me. It doesn’t get old, and I can meditate on each word I’ve heard many times, yet I still find something that inspires me to live better. When I found myself in a hard situation like that after the war, and I was missing my family or a friend to console me and to understand me, I reminded my heart of those words. “That I might not seek so much to be consoled as to console.” Though it was at times a bitter-sweet place to be, in the end if I only tried to redirect my heart towards consoling others, not expecting anything in return, it was then that I was always the happiest.
St. Francis was right, “It is in giving that we receive.” I challenge myself and all of you, my friends, to try to encourage others daily, those around us, to use uplifting, loving, kind words when you are tempted not to. Care for other people’s feelings, of course without compromising the truth; sometimes silence is gold. In your daily lives, give hope when there seems to be no hope, smile at the one who is sad, don’t hurry to judge, be grateful for the kindness you took for granted around you. I challenge you to think or write down a few things each day that you are grateful about, that you thank God for; it can be a gentle smile you received from a stranger when you needed it or someone who opened a door for you. You will quickly see how much God loves you, and you will want to give back that love!
Immaculée Ilibagiza was born in Rwanda and studied electronic and mechanical engineering at the National University. She lost most of her family during the 1994 genocide. Four years later, she emigrated to the United States and began working at the United Nations in New York City. She is now a full-time public speaker and writer. In 2007 she established the Left to Tell Charitable Fund, which helps support Rwandan orphans.
Immaculée holds honorary doctoral degrees from The University of Notre Dame and Saint John’s University, and was awarded The Mahatma Gandhi International Award for Reconciliation and Peace 2007. She is the author, with Steve Erwin, of LEFT TO TELL: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust.