Millions of Christians know a prayer written by Ignatius of Loyola (16th century): I like it very much: but only if we get the sense of it right. Otherwise, it could bring us down!
Dearest Lord, teach me to be generous,
Teach me to serve you as I should,
To give and not to count the cost,
To fight and not to heed the wounds,
To toil and not to seek for rest,
To labour and ask not for reward,
Save that of knowing that I do your most holy will.
It is a beautiful prayer, and it expresses the desire, a loving desire, to serve God with the whole of one's being.
But there is something very disturbing about it too. This all sound very heavy!
Does God really want me to give without in any sense of counting the cost? Does this mean some kind of irresponsible abandonment of my obligations, for example, to my family, and to my own well-being in the future? Does God expect me to give all I have, and then when I have nothing expect others to take care of me? Is that healthy and responsible? We couldn't all do that!
Does God ask me to suffer, 'fighting', without caring for the wounds?
I am not so keen on the fighting in the first place, but I take this to mean such things as fighting injustice and evil in its many guises.
This line, and those that follow, feed right into my workaholic tendency, or to the kind of Christianity that simply does not value ourselves. Does this prayer promote a complete absence of self-care and valuing of myself? What is all this about working without any payment? Am I not worth anything?
This prayer could bring us down, were it not for the final line. Here, Ignatius sets us on the right path.
All the dangers I have named have to be seen within the context of God's holy will.
And this is the genius of the prayer. It calls me to seek, above all the other things, to know and do God's will: and it is not God's will that my life should be a treadmill of work without any kind of reward, encouragement or rest. Consider, for example, that God is the creator not only of work, but of the Sabbath. Indeed the Sabbath is, as Moltmann once called it, the divine therapy. It is the health and healing without which our work becomes slavery. The Sabbath is the crowning glory of God's creation.
God's holy will is indeed that we should enjoy both work and rest.
God's holy will is that we should live in the land, the earth, in peace and hope.
God's holy will is that wounds should be healed, if they must be inflicted at all.
God's holy will sets our lives into a perspective, so that these earlier objectives and projects are made relative to a higher, more gracious and life-affirming vision. Jesus called it the reign of God.
Without that vision, this prayer could bring us down. Mis-used, it could destroy us. But when this final line governs and qualifies all that precedes it, the prayer draws us into the beauty of God's creative and healing love. Here there is hope, peace and fulfilment, even on the days of work, struggle and costly giving.
Thanks be to God.