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Go ahead and ask

Julie at Happy Catholic broached the subject of whether we ought to pray for specific remedies for a given situation. My combox response is below:

One day, back when my prayer life was far better than it is now (you know, before marriage, kids and the hundred other bad excuses) I was praying from Ezekiel 36:26 – “I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts.” I asked the Lord to destroy that stony heart and give me the true heart of flesh of which He spoke. With a startling clarity I heard this response: “I do not destroy what I have created, I transform it.”

That one locution has stuck with me all the intervening years and reminds me that while we may ask for things the quick, simple and obvious way (since those are our priorities) He will do things according to His priorities which include involving us in our the story of salvation. I once read in one of Pope Benedict’s books that just as God did not put aside His creation to effect His breaking into the world but rather embraced it, so now He will also continue to embrace His creation and use it.

I think we gain great opportunity in asking the Lord for this, that or the other thing – not so much in asking for it but in those times when we’re actually willing to wait around to listen to His answer. I have played around with the idea that God indeed never says “no” to our prayers, but rather says “I have a better idea”. We just need to listen.


To expand that just a little further, yes, I think we ought to ask for specific remedies if that’s where we are in our spiritual lives. There are many cases in the lives of the saints where they asked for very specific responses and were granted them, so clearly there is no good historical evidence backing up what I hear often these days of “whatever is your will, God”. We’re not asked to abdicate our roles in this world, we’re asked to elevate ourselves to conform our desires to God’s will. A saint, when saying “Your will be done Lord” has already taken steps to conform their will to His, has very often asked for a specific remedy and is then acknowledging that due to their fallen nature their request may not be in line with God’s plan and is bidirectionally admitting a willingness to be corrected – admitting it both to God and reminding him or herself that God’s answer will be the right one even if it’s not what was requested.

I think sometimes there’s a tendency today for people to jump the gun spiritually and try to outwardly emulate the great saints in their conformance to Christ’s Will without a matching inward conformance. I think it can be very dangerous to exclude the petitionary act of prayer in favor of a statement of conformance because, inter alia, very often the resolution God is working towards requires our involvement to begin with.

To attempt to avoid what now appears to be my typical circle-of-death logic in writing, let me wrap it up simply. I’d advocate doing just what Jesus did in Gethsemane – ask for a specific remedy as seems appropriate and then recommit yourself to: 1) listening to God’s answer and 2) accepting it. C’mon, y’all have to have an opinion on this!

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