I’d love a beautiful house. It doesn’t have to be huge, just well designed and tastefully decorated on a nice piece of land in the suburbs or, better yet, in a rural setting. I’d like a job that pays well, has good benefits, and the flexibility to work when and where I want. I’d like my kids to never fight, to always get good grades, to be star athletes, and of course to always choose the right path, the path of the Lord, at every fork in their roads. I’d like them to become Saint Joseph Men, Men who have a heart for the Lord and a will to do the hard things with Love whatever their individual burdens may be. I’d like to end world hunger, make every man, woman, and child know he or she is wanted, loved, and special, and have the entire world embrace the Trinity in Peace and Joy. For myself, I’d love to lose 30 pounds, run a six-minute mile, and eat ice cream sundaes all afternoon; doing all at the same time would be a bonus! Throwing in Prince Charming may or may not be part of the equation on any given day.
I could go on about what I wish for. Those wishes often become prayers too. They are prayers I pray for myself and for others, “Lord, I need this job.” “Lord, please let so-and-so get the house he’s looking at.” “Lord, please let me lose weight before that big event.”
Sometimes our prayers seem small and unimportant. “Saint Anthony, Saint Anthony, please come around. I’ve lost my car keys, and they must be found – again!”
Sometimes our prayers seem to bear the weight of the world. “Dear Lord please stop Christian persecution.” “Dear Lord, please help so-and-so heal from rape. Please help her choose not to have that abortion but see healing through her sweet, innocent child.” “Dear Lord, please help our nation despite its failing values.”
Sometimes we pray the same prayer over and over again, “Lord, please heal my child.” “Lord please help me find a job.” “Lord please bring my husband back.” Sometimes we receive no answers for months and years. Sometimes the final answer really is the hard to accept, “No,” and we wonder how to reconcile this no with our belief that God has our best interest at heart, but sometimes we mistakenly think it’s no.
Maybe we give up too soon. Maybe God sees things we don’t. Maybe that job didn’t come through because something better is ahead but we have to move from our present location. Maybe we didn’t lose the weight because we needed to learn self control and discipline for what is coming ahead. Maybe our husbands didn’t return because we both need to learn lessons in what love truly means and how to express it properly. Maybe God sees more in us than we see in ourselves.
One of my favorite movie scenes is in Fireproof. In the movie, the main character, fireman Caleb Holt played by Kirk Cameron has, after at least a year of serious marriage difficulties, finally decided to woo and love his wife. He studies her. He works to love her. He finds value in her even when she is acting terribly. When many people would say she isn’t worth it, Caleb works to see the value God has for his wife even when it’s difficult. He then works to treat her by that value and encourage himself to fall in love with her again.
Caleb becomes the model husband. He treats his wife as a princess, a daughter of the King, should be treated. He destroys things which are pulling his attention away from her and God. He surrounds himself with friends and family who actively support his marriage and his faith. He does everything right. It seems his hard work pays off when he walks into the kitchen to find an envelope addressed to him on the table. He smiles reaching for the envelope, and viewers know what’s coming, a letter from his wife offering apology, forgiveness, and undying Love and gratitude.
Except, that’s not what the envelope contains. Inside are divorce papers. Caleb leans against the wall for support. He grabs his forehead. He sinks to a sitting position, and he cries the same heartbreaking sobs many of us have agonized through.
The scene is one of my favorites, not because of the pain Caleb experiences but because of what comes next and of what that means about how the Lord must see someone like Caleb.
The Lord would have seen more in Caleb than Caleb saw in himself. The Lord would have seen Caleb had still more to give. Even when Caleb had thought he’d given his all, the Lord would have known Caleb held back.
When most people would get angry at the divorce, at the cheating wife, and what appears to be God’s lack of follow through, Caleb doesn’t. God has been working in his life, and Caleb knows he needs God to keep working! He persists in asking God for help. He persists in treating his undeserving wife as the princess she should be.
Caleb didn’t give up. He didn’t accept divorce. Although he had to painfully accept his wife’s free will to continue that destructive path of she so chose, but Caleb wasn’t idle or accepting of the status quo shrugging a faithless “it is what it is” attitude in his waiting for something to happen. Instead, he pushes the envelope further, asking God more persistently for more while at the same time pushing himself to give more. By being denied the answer he wanted and expected, Caleb learned humility in ways he wouldn’t have thought possible. He learned he was capable of sacrifice many wouldn’t comprehend. He learned the Lord would protect and lift him even in the hardest of times, and he learned the reality of unconditional Love.
We see this same concept of not giving up, of being persistent in our requests, in the readings this week. When there is such sin in Sodom, Abraham asks the Lord if He will spare the city if 50 Good people are found. At God’s, “Yes,” Abraham pushes to 45, then 40, then 35, and so on. God says yes to all. He will spare the city if there are even 10 Good people to be found. How grateful is Abraham that he kept boldly asking God for what he needed to know!
In the Gospel, Jesus likewise tells us to ask the Father for what we want and to keep asking. He tells us our persistence will get us what we need. He tells us that we too often give up petitioning the Lord when we would not give up asking our friends for help. We too often forget God works in His time because He knows and sees things we do not. Too often we walk away, abandoning our prayers saying God hasn’t heard us, doesn’t listen to us, or doesn’t care. We assume God’s answer is no when it might simply be “Not yet.”
Sometimes our prayer requests are too small and need to be bigger, more trusting, less limited. Jesus asks what father would give his children a snake when they ask for a fish or a scorpion when they ask for an egg. Jesus points out that we, who are wicked, are capable of loving our children and giving them what is best for them whether they understand it or not at the time. He asks how much more the Father is capable of giving us, His children?
What is the biggest wish you’ve ever had? What is the greatest prayer you’ve ever uttered? How much control are you willing to hand over and how much do you try to grasp in your fist? How much is the Lord capable of giving you? Is it that beautiful house you dream of? The perfect job? Help finding your keys or ending world hunger?
What exactly are we asking for and why?
Maybe we should ask bigger as Jesus taught us.
Dear Lord, may thy will be done.
And we should keep asking.
Really, what other hastily worded prayer we forget three minutes from now can compare?
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