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 from the recitals 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 time goes by.
I do not ask for Grace enough to enjoy the tales of other’s pain
but help me 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 person is the work 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!
This seventeenth-century nun’s prayer was given to me on a postcard, in beautiful calligraphy, by my oldest friend many years ago, when we were perhaps about 45 and beginning to notice that, even if we still felt like twenty, time was catching up on us. I like this prayer, and it remains relevant to me, as I still struggle with the “fatal habit” of unnecessary comment. And all the other foibles listed here.
I know that my dear friend felt it applied to her (she was very modest – it applied in far greater measure to me!) and that was her reason for sharing it with me. She is much in my thoughts this week as Wednesday, 4 April, marks her birthday. She died shortly before her seventieth birthday two years ago. Our mothers were best friends, even before we were born, which led Tiggy and me – both of us then prone to dramatising the mundane – to claim that we were friends from the womb. We were quite different in many ways, both physically and in character, but our bond was very deep. There was a kind of telepathy between us as children; sometimes words were unnecessary and we knew exactly what the other was thinking.
We shared a magic childhood world of the imagination, which included adventures among the old slag heaps and pit mounds (know locally as Tocky Banks) based on our reading of Robin Hood, King Arthur and other romantic tales, as well as attempts to recreate the boarding school world of Angela Brazil et al, replete with midnight feasts when Tiggy was allowed to sleep over at my house. She was a quiet, gentle, sensitive girl with an enormous amount of inner strength stemming from her profound Christian faith.
Tiggy studied at London Bible College and took a degree in divinity. The Church of England had not yet admitted women priests, otherwise I think that would have been her career. Instead, she taught for a while and then joined Scripture Union, travelling the country visiting schools, speaking at conferences and meetings, and quietly affecting the lives of hundreds, indeed thousands, of people with whom she came into contact through her work at the Lozells Bookshop in Birmingham.
Much of her missionary work had to be done in secret, under cover, and she risked her life on more than one occasion to bring the Word of God to places where Christians were persecuted and murdered.
Her last years were sadly overshadowed by Alzheimer’s disease. My beloved friend had gone, and her death was a release, leaving her family and friends with many fond and often funny memories. There are some people whom it is a privilege to know: Tig was one.
My dearest, closest childhood friend
Who shared and helped me sorrow and rejoice,
My other self, on whom I could depend
To know my mind before I gave it voice,
You were the sole adventurer who played
With me among the Tocky Banks, and could
Transform them into mountains, valleys; made
Marlholes into magic lakes, and stood
At cinder altars where we pledged our lives.
I miss your gentle presence gone too soon.
You gave your all indeed: what yet survives?
Sweet bells, no longer jangled out of tune,
Their harmony restored:
For you are with your Lord.