Have you heard of The Friendship Books of Francis Gay? I have a small collection, some inherited from my mother, and others which were gifts from dear friends. They’ve been a blessing to me and those with whom I’ve shared the writer’s thoughts.
Francis Gay died in 1977, but the books are still published in time for Christmas, so people can begin reading them on New Year’s Day. For every Sunday, there’s a scripture which stands on its own, anchoring the week ahead. The rest are stories that people sent to Francis, and some experiences and observations he and his wife made during their lives.
Lots of people enjoy a devotional to read each morning or evening. What I like about these books is that they highlight humble lives. Even the famous people are all shown in the light of their natural humanity, their humility. And I also enjoy the tricky jokes of the little boy who shared them with his kindly neighbour!
Francis Gay was Herbert Leslie Gee’s pen-name. An ardent Methodist, he wrote about his travels in his home county of Yorkshire. My mother loved his books; I recall seeing one in the bookshelf when I was a child. He also wrote for children, and about World War Two’s Battle of Britain. Another of his books focussed on hymns; most included Christian themes.
Over the years, I’ve occasionally checked my collection in December to see if the dates of any of them match those of the up-coming year. If so, I’ll use that volume as a daily reading once again. I’ve learnt so much from the simple stories – everlasting truths that I’ve taken to heart and shared with friends. I’m reading the 1981 volume this year.
One day, years ago, I was feeling sorry for myself. I’d received some bad news. The shock of it so filled my mind that I didn’t read my Friendship Book entry. The next day, I turned back to it and realised I wouldn’t have absorbed it if I’d seen it the day before. I still remember the way it spoke to me then. It was about Victor Hugo, who had a habit of going down to the sea each morning and throwing stones into the water. When asked why, he replied, ‘Not stones … I’m throwing my self-pity into the sea’. What a relief to be rid of that burdensome malady! I imagined doing it too, and it helped me.
The Bible’s a bit like God’s Friendship Book. He’s included stories we can relate to when we’re down; hymns that lift us up to praise him, and lyrical songs our bodies can dance to. There are many instances of people in the Bible – King David, Job, Moses, and more – who experienced times when they felt God was expecting too much of them. Self-pity tricks us into thinking that our own bad attitudes are friends we should keep. After all, shouldn’t we deserve better?! Only God can deal with our self-pity, but we have to let him. We need to be prepared to live without it – to throw it as far away as we can.
I have a feeling that James, Jesus’ brother, knew self-pity well. He wrote, Take the old prophets as your mentors. They … never once quit, all the time honoring God. What a gift life is to those who stay the course! You’ve heard … of Job’s staying power, and you know how God brought it all together for him at the end. That’s because God cares, cares right down to the last detail – James 5: 10-11 – The Message Bible.
Will we relinquish our self-pity? Permanently?