While I’m not sure if I believe in the cliche of “love at first sight” as far as human relationships go, I’ve definitely fallen in love with places, ideas, items, and foods at the moment of my first encounter (Yosemite, the Celtic concept of thin places, a glass juicer that my mother-in-law passed down to me from her grandmother, and Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food, to name a few!).
A couple of years ago, I experienced instant enrapture with a particular prayer. Leaving the home of a neighbor, I noticed a plaque hanging above her entryway table and I paused to read it. My friend told me that she prays the engraved words every time she leaves the house, and I immediately understood why. The prayer, which I later found out is St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Suscipe, is the little black dress of prayers: versatile, trustworthy and comforting, it’s now my go-to prayer. I say it when I’m sad, afraid or having a hard time letting go; I say it when I’m grateful and feeling humbled; I say it when I need help. It goes like this:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.
Here’s why I turn to this prayer, over and over again:
The prayer begins with a calling out to God to take and receive all my liberty, memory, and understanding, “my entire will / all I have and call my own.” As someone who often struggles with letting go of everything from my minor preferences to my personal vision of how the world should unfold, these words constantly shake me up and then help me get a better grip on reality, reminding me that I am not in charge of the universe. For instance, I spend a lot of time worrying about my future. Will my current work projects end successfully? Will my loved ones stay healthy and happy? Will my five-year plan unroll in the way I have planned? When I get wrapped up in these questions, the opening stanza of the Suscipe brings me back to earth and helps me relinquish my need for control.
After calling us to give everything back to God, the Suscipe succinctly tells us why: because none of it was ours to begin with. The reminder that God has “given all to me” moves me to gratitude in an instant. Instead of worrying about whether my daughter will have a long, healthy, and meaningful life, I simply give thanks for her life. Rather than feeling anxious about how my professional trajectory will proceed, I feel grateful for the opportunities that I have had thus far and for the people, experiences and skills that have led me to them. The Suscipe reveals to me that gratitude is the antidote to anxiety, as peace replaces racing thoughts during my moments of prayer.
Asking for help
The Suscipe ends by prompting us to ask for God’s love and grace. This movement recalls the simple act of breathing: As I exhale, I let go of my clinging need for control, my wants and my personal will, and then as I inhale, I fill myself up with God’s goodness. Recently, I’ve been feeling particularly destabilized as I’ve experienced many of the negative repercussions of the current coronavirus pandemic: job instability, loss of long-anticipated plans, and concern about the health and well-being of my loved ones. The closing of the Suscipe tells me that even if I lose everything (which I likely won’t!), I will still have God’s love and grace. And that is enough.
Just over fifty words, the Suscipe is brief. But by moving me to complete three major actions — letting go, giving thanks, and asking for help — it transforms my mindset and softens my heart with each recitation.