Editor’s note: This is the seventh in a 12-part series of letters Paul Graves is writing to his grandchildren in 2012. They are based on the Peace Prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.
Dear Katie, Claire and Andy,
I can still remember with gratitude how you comforted me on those days we said “goodbye” first to Granny and then five years later to Papa. Those are memories that will stay with me as long as I live. You didn’t understand everything that was going on those days, but you understood that your grampa was very sad.
You understood enough to want to offer comfort. And you did.
“Comfort” and “understanding” have many different levels, and you will live some of those deeper levels as you get older. For now, it is enough to just show comfort and understanding to other people in your lives. Simply know that you are learning two of the most important steps in living peace-filled lives.
These two words come from this step in the Peace Prayer as used by Mother Teresa: “Lord, grant that I may seek to comfort rather than to be comforted, to understand rather than to be understood.”
Let me say that the prayer assumes something very important: that the person praying has already learned what it is like to be comforted and to be understood (by God and other people). We cannot offer to someone else what we haven’t experienced at a pretty deep level.
So what I think the prayer wants to do is to keep some important balance between receiving comfort and understanding and giving those gifts to others. I think all three of you are pretty good at understanding when people need comfort, just as you are pretty good at understanding when you need comfort.
But there will be times in your growing up when you feel two things pretty intensely: 1) Nobody understands you; and 2) Nobody cares enough about you to offer comfort. When you feel those things, kids, try to remember those feelings are based on your feelings, not “the facts.”
You will always have someone who understands you, even if that person isn’t in the same room with you. That person may be one of your parents or grandparents, a sibling, a close friend, or someone else you trust. It may be difficult for us to understand what you are feeling at the moment, but we will try.
The same is true to when it comes to your needing some kind of comfort. Someone you love will be available to comfort you. It may only be on the telephone or Skype if we aren’t near enough to hold you in our arms. But we will comfort you.
This is also how it can be when someone else you know is frantic to be understood or comforted. You can “be there” for your friend or family member, even when you aren’t in the same room.
Did you notice I have only written about how we can be understanding and comforting to each other? What about God? After all, God is the focus of the Peace Prayer, not us.
Have you heard about the little boy who was crying and jumped into his daddy’s arms? As his father held him, he tried to comfort his son by telling him God loved him too. The boy looked at him and said, “I know, but I like to have God with skin on.” So do we all.
To understand and comfort another person is to let that person catch a flesh-and-blood glimpse of God.