by Sarah Levesque (rated G)
Where do we go, oh, when our prayers are answered? Where do we go, oh, when our prayers are answered but the answer is no?
Lindsey Stirling and Carah Faye ask a good question in this song, a question they leave unanswered. I have found myself asking this question more than once, as my prayers are not always answered the way I want them to be, or in the time I want them to be. But I’m not sure if that’s the right question, because the deeper question is actually ‘Do I trust that God knows what’s best for me?’.
The funny thing about prayer is that, in my experience, we don’t often pray that God’s will be done; we usually pray that our will be done. And how many times has God said ‘no’ or “not yet”, and given us something even greater than what we prayed for? God is not a genie; we shouldn’t treat Him as such. Am I writing this to pound this idea into my own head? You bet.
Think about it: if God were a genie, if He had said ‘yes’ to everything you ever asked him, how messed up would your life be right now? One of the biggest personal experience I have is from when I was a teen and I had a crush on a guy. I don’t think I prayed that he would notice me, but I did wish it. A few years down the road I realized that I was glad my wish hadn’t come true, because I was so not ready for a relationship at that point. I had to come out of my shy-shell first, and that didn’t happen till I was in college. If God had answered my wish when I was a teen, I probably would have ended up with a broken heart, not because the guy wasn’t a good guy (he was and is), but because he wasn’t right for me.
Now, I don’t usually pray much for myself. But I do read a chapter of my Bible every night, and whenever I come across a verse that resonates with me, I write it on a Post It note and stick it to my wall next to my bed. These are the ones that are up there:
Lord, tune my ears to the timbre of Your voice.
Lord, place a guard over my mouth, a sentry at the door of my lips. (Psalm 141:3)
Teach me, Lord, what you want me to do, and I will obey you faithfully; teach me to serve you with complete devotion. (Psalm 86:11)
I do have faith, but not enough. Help me to have more! (Mark 9:24)
Above all, pray to the Most High that He will show you the right thing to do. (Sirach 37:15)
“Don’t be afraid,” he said, “for you are very precious to God. Peace! Be encouraged! Be strong! (Daniel 10:19)
And now I commend you to the care of God and to the message of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you the blessings God has for all his people. (Acts 20:32)
Yes, some of these verses are a bit redundant. But I’ve realized that I will not grow in my faith without asking God for help. I will not hear His voice unless He tunes my ears to it. The verse from Acts I found just last night, and I realized that I need to do this with my friends. Yes, I will continue to pray for them. But I need to give them to God, knowing that He will do His will, not mine. Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. How often do we mean what we say when we say the Our Father?
I think this may be why a lot of people don’t believe in the power of prayer. They either think God should work as a genie, or they look around at the world in all its despair, hatred and violence and think that God surely does not answer prayers or our world would not be as it is. This is known as the Problem of Evil, but evil is the absence of God, and if He were to abolish evil, we would no longer have free will, because free will is the regular choice between God and that which is not God. Could He interfere a bit more often without abolishing free will? Maybe. But think of it this way – just because the day is cloudy and raining doesn’t mean that the sun has abandoned us. We just need to get above the clouds to see it.
Besides, I have seen the power of prayer work in the people around me. When I was a teenager, a boy my brothers knew was discovered to have a brain tumor. He had weeks to live. Everyone that knew him and quite a lot of people who heard his story through friends prayed for him. We stormed Heaven with our prayers. And his tumor disappeared. The doctors had no explanation. Did it last forever? No, the tumor eventually came back. But he had years of witnessing to the power of prayer by his life.
Another reason I believe in the power of prayer is this – my dad is the only one of his family to remain faithful to the Catholic faith he was brought up in. His mother prayed equally for all of her children. This would make some people think that prayer doesn’t work. But they wouldn’t know this – from the day my mother was born, her mother prayed for her future spouse. And I believe that is why he remained a God-fearing man. His life wasn’t any better than his siblings’; if anything, it was worse. But by the power of the united prayers of my grandmothers and my mom, my dad is the best man I know.
One last example – for years I’ve been pretty sure my vocation is to marriage and motherhood, but no matter how I prayed I have not had a romantic relationship last very long. But not long ago I looked at my sister-in-law, who has the life I’ve prayed for, and I realized that if I had had that prayer answered already, the accomplishments God has led me to these last few years either would have been much more difficult or they might not have happened at all. So even though it grates on me some days, that “not yet” is just part of God’s plan.
Sometimes prayers are answered in ways we could never dream of. Sometimes they are answered ‘no’. Sometimes they’re answered “not now”. And sometimes we’re not praying the right prayer, but instead we’re expecting God to be a genie instead of following His will. But God has a plan, and if we listen to Him, if we follow his path, we will discover that He was right all along, that He was leading us to a place so good, so perfect, that we can’t even imagine it. I myself continue to strive to grow in my faith and in my acceptance of God’s will. I hope I will come mean “Thy will be done” every time I pray it. And I hope you will too.