Reflection on “The Helping Hand” by Renouf

(Please note: I know many of you are no longer receiving my blog in your email. I’m so sorry! Right now, our IT people can’t seem to find the problem. Until it is fixed, though, you can find my blog by using Google or Safari or whatever search engine you employ. Just type in: Sunflower Seeds blog Melannie Svoboda, and it should come up immediately. I apologize for this inconvenience.)

I first saw Renouf’s painting, “The Helping Hand,” in a small art store in Virginia in the late 1980s. I immediately fell in love with it. As I gazed upon it, I was struck by the fear I saw in the little girl’s face. At the same time, I was moved by the tenderness I saw in the old sailor’s face. I eventually concluded, “I’m like that little girl… And that old sailor—her grandpa perhaps?—is like God.” Some friends bought me a print of the painting, they had it framed, and now it hangs above my couch. One day as I prayed with the painting, I wrote this short dialogue:

“The Helping Hand” by Emile Renouf (1845-1894)

Grandpa, I’m afraid.

I’m right here beside you, my child.

Grandpa, this oar is too big for me.

Just keep your two little hands on the oar, Honey. And always remember, my big hands are on the oar with your little hands.

Our boat is so small, Grandpa.

It’s big enough for you and me and all we need for our journey.


Grandpa, it’s so foggy.

Yes, it is, my child. Some days are foggy. Some are stormy. Some are rainy. Some are sunny. And some days can’t seem to make up their mind what kind of a day they want to be. But just remember, I am with you no matter what kind of a day it is.

Grandpa, I can’t see where we’re going.

That’s okay, Honey. I know these waters well… And I’ve already been where we’re going.

Grandpa, I think I want to go home.

That’s where we’re going, Honey. Home. You and me together. We’re on our way home. Trust me.


I’m so glad you’re here beside me, Grandpa.

And I’m so glad you’re here beside me too!

Grandpa, I’m still afraid… a little.

Well, guess what. I have enough peace and love for the two of us. When you’re afraid, just scoot a little closer to me.

Grandpa, guess what.

What, Honey.

I love you soooooo much!

Why, thank you soooooo much! And guess what.


I love you even more! In fact, I loved you first! And guess what.


My love for you will never end!


Sit with the painting for a few moments. Does anything else in the painting catch your attention? If so, what?

Sit with the reflection for a few moments. Did any words in the dialogue resonate with you? If so, what?

Are there any pictures or paintings that you have used for your prayer? Would you recommend any of them for us?

PS: When I gave that retreat with the Medical Mission Sisters last week, I had the privilege of meeting Sr. Miriam Therese Winter, one of their sisters known for the many songs and hymns she has written. When I was a young nun, we sang many of her popular songs including “Joy Is Like the Rain,” “I Cannot come to the Banquet,” and “The Visit.” Perhaps some of you too are familiar with her music. Here is a picture of the two of us meeting:

Meeting Sr. Miriam Therese Winter, MMS, one of my idols. (Photo by Sr. Judy MacDonell, MMS)

Since today’s reflection focuses on the image of God as a grandparent, I chose a song that I’m dedicating to all of you who are grandparents or who might be missing your grandparents right now. It’s called: “Child of My Child: A Grandparent’s Prayer.” It’s put out by New Family Music and is sung by Jennifer.

I welcome you to comment below. We all enjoy hearing from you!


  1. Liz Soltysiak on August 21, 2022 at 12:23 pm

    What a beautiful reflection, Sister!!

    Can your IT Department perhaps ‘unsubscribe’ everyone and then ‘resubscribe’ us, or we can resubscribe ourselves….

    • anita Compagnone on August 22, 2022 at 5:00 pm

      Loved the Helping Hand and all the contemplations that went with it. So touching. I have missed your blog due to this issue and hope it can be resolved soon Sister. Thanks so much

  2. Deacon Bob Mayo on August 21, 2022 at 5:00 pm

    Very touching. The painting is perfect for your written reflection. Thanks for your ministry.

  3. Sr. Kathleen on August 21, 2022 at 6:59 pm

    My grandfathers died before my parents were married. I got to “experience” a grandfather when i watched my father interact with Tim’s daughter.
    I did get to know my grandmothers.
    Thanks for the dialog.

  4. Annmarie Ragukonis on August 21, 2022 at 8:42 pm

    Oh my gosh!! I have to send this blog to my sister! She and I are Irish twins and we grew up singing the Medical Mission Sisters’ songs that we learned by listening to my mother’s vinyl records. Sebastian Temple was another of our favorites. We lived in eastern Pennsylvania, not far from Philadelphia. When you first mentioned your retreat, I wondered if it was the same order, and now I know. What a blast from the past!! THANK YOU!!

  5. Marilyn Friga on August 26, 2022 at 4:54 pm

    Thank you for that song! I am going to send it to all seven of my grandchildren. It is perfect.
    I get your bulletins by clicking on your website so I don’t miss them.
    I so appreciate all you do!
    I know God is blessing you real good!

  6. Debbie on August 27, 2022 at 8:23 am

    So glad I found this! I’m missing the weekly emails, hopefully they can figure it out.

  7. Chris Keil on August 29, 2022 at 8:33 am

    I’ve missed your blogs………….finally just did a search for them and love this one! I remember hearing the Joy is Like the Rain songs in grade school and then used them when I was teaching CCD in high school!! How nice for your to meet her!
    The painting and your dialogue is beautiful!
    The song brought a tear to my eye…………..we try our best with our children and then they’re trying with their children and we are there to help.
    I am thankful for my grandparents everyday.

    Thank you,
    PS. I sent you an email…………..

  8. Sister Jan on August 30, 2022 at 7:06 am

    When I was on my first teaching assignment in 1969 the 4 medical missionary singers gave a concert in town. What a beautiful evening it was.

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