There’s a danger in the Sunday readings this weekend. In both the second reading and the Gospel, we hear the promise that we will be given whatever we ask. If we read the verses out of context, however, we end up with a dangerous concept of God that can be compared to a vending machine.
I was recently looking over the posts of a blogger who often wrote a lot about the struggles of the Catholic single life. I was disappointed to read a recent post, where after her marriage she repeated the same lines single Christians have heard ad nauseam– things like “Just keep praying, and when you least expect it…” or “Don’t give up, there’s someone out there…” or “write letters to your future spouse…”
Perhaps this is why I don’t often write about being a single Catholic. If I do get married someday, I don’t ever want to turn around to the single girls behind me and say these things.
Guess what? It might not happen, ladies (or gentlemen). There might not be someone out there. There may never be a future spouse to whom to give those letters.
That doesn’t mean God doesn’t listen to your prayers. It doesn’t mean that He doesn’t see your suffering. It doesn’t mean that He doesn’t want you to be happy.
God promises us many things. But He never promised us a spouse.
Don’t trap God into a promise he didn’t make. God desires us to be with Him forever in heaven. He desires our holiness. What He promises us is always directed to that vocation – that He will be with us on this journey through this vale of tears, that He will be with us in the suffering and in the joys, that He will not leave us orphans, that He will raise us on the last day.
It is dangerous to mold God into some sort of vending machine, where if you pray hard enough, everything and exactly what you ask for will be given to you. Jesus does instruct us to ask, seek, and knock. But the answers to our prayers will be those that are good for us. And sometimes we don’t know what is good for us!
Notice that in both the second reading and more notably the Gospel, the encouragement to ask is within a greater discussion of our relationship with God. God desires a relationship with us – an intimate relationship where we are so close to Him we are part of Him, as a branch with a vine. It is within that relationship that we’ll know what to pray for and how to pray. We will be able to see that He does answer our prayers, He does hear our voice, He does know our suffering. It doesn’t mean He will remove that suffering or give us precisely what we are asking for, because sometimes the greatest gift is in not giving us what we want. Sure, we want to end our suffering. But what if it is in uniting that suffering with His that I get to heaven?
I’m not saying He doesn’t answer our prayers – even the smallest, most frivolous ones. I was composing this very post in my head this morning when I received a text from my sister. It was a picture of my nephew eating a doughnut. As the craving struck, I asked God for a doughnut. Surely someone wanted to bring a dozen to work, right?
Two hours later, after I had forgotten my own prayer, a colleague stopped by my office to let me know someone had just brought in a box of fresh doughnuts.
I’m not saying God doesn’t answer our prayers. I’m not saying that He doesn’t answer prayers for lovely Catholic spouses every day. But it is wrong to try to ease people’s anxieties, loneliness, or discomfort by telling them that God will answer their prayers in a certain way. To the infertile couple who prays for a child – yes, God can give them a miracle. But He might not. That doesn’t make Him any less God.
He gives us gifts. But He doesn’t give us every gift for which we ask. All He has promised us is that He will give us what we need to get to heaven. And who knows what that is? God.
Jesus never told us that if we pray hard enough, our every dream will come true. God’s not Walt Disney, He’s God.
Jesus promised to give us life abundantly. And if you are constantly waiting for x, y, or z in order to have life in abundance, you are wasting the gifts He is already giving you. Maybe God will give you a spouse. Maybe He will give you a child. Maybe He will give you the job you want. Or maybe He won’t.
It ultimately doesn’t matter. What matters is that we’re using what is in front of us, where we are, what we have been given at the present moment, to advance the kingdom of God.
St. Josemaria Escriva commands us bluntly, “Stop dreaming! Leave behind false idealisms, fantasies, and what I usually call ‘mystical wishful thinking’ (if only I hadn’t married. If only I didn’t have this profession. If only I had better health. If only I were young. If only I were old…) Instead, turn seriously to the most material and immediate reality, which is where Our Lord is.”
That is where we will “bear much fruit.” That is where grace is. And that is how we will get to Heaven.