Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers
You may recognize this from an old Garth Brooks’ song, Unanswered Prayers. The idea of answered and unanswered prayers stayed in my mind throughout my contemplation of the first two readings for today. The gospel presented another theme for me in the differences between intent and the letter of the law. This second theme is evident as the Pharisees confront Jesus and disciples about walking through fields “reaping” wheat on the Sabbath. It is the first idea that I really want to explore today.
The first reading depicts Hezekiah on his deathbed praying that he will be healed. I am reminded of our declaration at every mass, that we are not worthy yet only say the word and we shall be healed. It is a statement of faith—an acknowledgment that God is in control and has the power to change anything. We say it as rote yet the words are powerful. I know that no matter how well I try to live, I fail in numerous ways. I am in that sense unworthy yet I always know that I am loved and accepted. We so often pray for things to happen or not happen. At times, we feel that we have been neglected and are disappointed when our prayers are not answered. Thus, the lines from Garth Brooks came to mind. Sometimes we are in a better place when our prayers are not answered. As one of my friends used to say “no” is an answer!
I think of a specific time when I so desperately wanted prayers answered, for God to say the word and the healing take place. I was not quite 16 when my father passed away (it will be 45 years ago in just a couple of weeks). Yet I can still remember that morning vividly hearing my mother in the other part of the house discover that he had had a heart attack sometime in the night and was dead on the kitchen floor. I was immobilized and instinctively reached for my St. Ann novena card that was at my bedside. I used to say that prayer before going to sleep although I cannot recall praying for any specific intentions until then. I prayed with every cell in my being that God would hear me, that this must be a mistake, that my father would get up off the floor. I did not get the answer I wanted. There was a comfort, however, in the praying, a sense of being taken care of. Such prayer comforted my mother throughout the rest of her life (nearly 30 years) when she said daily prayers for the dead. She wore out a number of these little prayer booklets and had to keep ordering replacements. It was a true constant in her life no matter what the pain. I am so grateful to her for what she taught me about that – a lesson that took many years to realize all the implications. Her abiding faith in daily prayer was [is]an inspiration to me.
I have realized that prayer is not about asking for specifics. The endless lists of “I want” to be satisfied. Prayer for me now is about asking for faith, strength, and wisdom to understand God’s will. Prayer for me is support for making the rights decisions – not necessarily what I want to do. I do not pray thinking cures are the only positive answers. I understand the need for care and support as we travel this journey of life. I know the strength for that journey comes from God - albeit manifest in a variety of ways. I know, “you saved my life, O Lord; I shall not die” means our spiritual life will transcend these earthly bonds.
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