|Mat 7:7||Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:|
I've met a lot of people who tell me prayer doesn't work. They tell me they have asked and not received, and that this means God doesn't exist or doesn't answer prayers if He does. Yet this view ignores three fundamental truths about prayer, about man, and about God. The first of these truths is that prayer is intended to be a conversation with God and not a laundry list of demands. The second of these truths is that sometimes what we ask for is based on our limited view of the world and isn't what we truly need. The third of these truths is that God sees our request in light of not only how answering it will impact our own lives but on how that answer will impact the lives of those around us. He is the epitome of efficiency and always strives to answer as many prayers as possible with one answer.
Today's Mass reading from Acts demonstrates perfectly these truths in action. In Acts chapter three versus 1-10, we see Peter and James headed to the temple to pray around 3 pm in the afternoon. A man who has been crippled since birth is brought there so that he might beg for money. The man spots Peter and James and begs them for money, but Peter and James surprise him. Rather than giving him the money he asked for, they heal his crippled feet and ankles so that he can walk. The man asked for money, but received healing. According to many people I've met, this would be an example of God not answering prayers - yet it is exactly the way in which God often does answer our prayers.
Long ago, I prayed and prayed for my husband's conversion. I would get frustrated when he didn't seem to be making any progress and then I would give up for a time, becoming angry and resentful with God for failing to answer my prayers. What I didn't see at the time was that God was working on converting my husband by working to convert me first. How could I ask my husband to believe when my faith wasn't strong enough to bear the weight of his doubts? Three years ago, I finally finished testing God and gave my life into His care. Just eight months later, my husband began to explore the Church and a year after my own conversion was ready to convert himself. God answered my prayer, but not the way I expected Him to.
I once went to confession during a time when I was praying for something and found myself discouraged because my prayers didn't seem to be "working". I confessed my lack of faith in God to the priest. Thank God for Father Patrick. He corrected me, and told me I had plenty of faith. What I lacked was gratitude. He told me if I prayed for water, and God sent me an empty glass instead I needed to thank God for the empty glass. He reminded me that God always acts for our ultimate good, even if we do not at first understand his actions.
That night, I went home and wrote a parable called The Rusty Tin Can. A man becomes stranded in the desert. Eventually he sets out to try and find help. As he walks along the way, he grows thirstier and thirstier. He prays to God for water. A few steps later, he stumbles over a rusted tin can. He curses his poor luck, kicks the can with all his might and walks on. A few more hours pass, and he prays again that God might send him water. A few steps later, he again stumbles over a rusted tin can. He curses his poor luck, kicks the can with all his might, and walks on. A few more hours and he simply can't take it anymore. He is sure that he will die of thirst. He breaks down into tears, screaming in rage at God and asking why He doesn't help him. When the man is finally silent, he hears a still, small voice say to him, "My son, what were you going to use to hold the water? Had I have sent you water first, you might have gotten a few drops before the rest ran through your fingers. With that rusted tin can you could not only collect water for now but keep some for later as well. Furthermore, did you not think that you might need to eat? That rusted tin can could have been used to collect and to cook your food. Finally, did you not wish to be rescued? With the abundant sand you have here you could have used it to polish the metal of the tin can and use it to signal for help. My son, I sent you that tin can because I was thinking of ALL of your needs and not merely your thirst. Rise up, my son, and go retrieve the tin can so that I can give you the things you desire."