Thursday, October 12, 2017

What We’re Praying For

Editor's Note: This is a contribution from TJ Birnbaum. You can find him on Twitter here.
Much of the Gospel is hard to swallow, filled with talk of what it takes to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, parables about what it takes to follow Jesus, and general instruction that seems hard to follow.
Today is no exception.
“Ask and you shall receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” This passage is meant to bring hope and peace to the troubled heart, to those who are in need of the Father’s help. A message of love and comfort for those who need it most.
But for some of us, this passage is harder to take. It is not a message of hope, but rather something that adds to a feeling of despair.
Because we ask, but we do not receive. We seek, but we do not find.  We knock, and the door never seems to open.
This despair is rooted in many various experiences. For me, it finds its foundation in my struggles with mental illness. For others, the loss of loved ones. Still others, the daily burdens of life. Whatever the events are that led to this feeling, the end thought is almost always the same:
We pray, but hear no answer.
Our natural response, then, is to not totally believe what Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel. We tell ourselves that, despite what we are promised, sometimes God just doesn’t answer our prayers. We sit in our misery and lose faith in the promise of God’s comfort and help, not because we want to, but because it seems to be the only explanation.
Why would God promise to help us when we ask, then leave us when we need Him most?
I know these feelings well, because they have been something I’ve wrestled with for a very long time. It wasn’t until I read and reread today’s Gospel that I realized what I was missing.
It all begins with a simple misunderstanding of what Jesus is promising. He isn’t promising to give us whatever we ask for. He never says, “Ask and you shall receive exactly what you wanted.” And if you’re like me, you know that to be all too painfully true. A common phrase that I’ve heard from many priests and teachers of the faith is “God always answers your prayers. Sometimes, He just says ‘No.’” While this phrase rings true in the fact that God will not always give us what we want, I think it neglects an equally important second idea, the idea that is presented in today’s Gospel: “Sometimes, God just says ‘No,’” and gives you something better.
This is what Jesus is promising us in today’s Gospel. He does not promise to give us whatever we want. What He promises to give us is far greater.
Sometimes, the Father does answer our prayers in the way we want Him to. Sicknesses are healed, brokenness is repaired, and hope is found. But more often than not, our prayers are not answered in the way we hope. This means, very simply, that God has something even better in mind. This is the promise that Jesus makes today. Sometimes this requires living with our pain, and holding together our own brokenness. But it also means that, if you remain persistent in prayer, God will give you more than you’ve ever wanted. And as someone who is still waiting for these prayers to be answered, I’m confident that it’s a promise worth holding on for.
Stay hopeful, stay faithful, and stay persistent.
The Father hears you, and is working now to give you more than you could ever dream of.

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