by Chris Canniff
Like many people, I enjoy using Timehop, the popular app that lets you see what you were doing one year ago today, two years ago today, etcetera by displaying your old tweets and Facebook posts. Recently, however, it brought back a bad memory from last year. Two problems that had been bothering me had suddenly converged into one larger problem, which hurt me all the more. I asked God to help me in certain ways; I asked God to give me certain things. But he didn’t. One year later, I often wonder what life would be like if God had answered my prayers.
I prayed all the time. What I was saying to God was almost always the same. Then the exact opposite kept happening. A trusted Jesuit whom I talk to encouraged that I take up a certain pattern of prayer, but rather than doing as he said, I just gave up. I stopped praying. At the time, I didn’t quite realize this because I was still going to church regularly. What I ignored, however, was that I had stopped talking to God. At Mass, I stood, I sat, I kneeled, but that was it. Outwardly, I was active; inwardly, I was thoughtless and disinterested. It was as if I was saying to God, “Well, you don’t want to give me what I want, so I’m done talking to you. I’ll still come to visit, but I have nothing to say to you.” As childish as it sounds, I was giving God the silent treatment.
When we are little children, we are told to pray to God to help us in difficult times or to provide for us when we have a want. And yet, many times, he does not help us through the difficulty in the way that we might have liked him to. Many times, he does not give us what we ask for. As we grow older, this dawns on us more and more. Our childish idea of God as the divine wish granter ultimately falls apart, and the frustration that follows leads people in one of two directions: either they lose their faith or they strengthen it by coming to know better who God actually is. With my spiritual silence last school year, it seemed that I was drifting toward the former, but today, I think I’m moving ever closer to the latter.
I thought that prayer was for bending God’s will to my own, when in fact prayer is precisely the opposite. Prayer is not so much about getting God to give us what we want. Prayer is about learning to listen to God, to see what he wants for us, and then to want that for ourselves. Like Job, we may think every painful thing happening to us is unjust, but also like Job, we must come to accept that God is God and we are not. The cross has to be somewhere in our lives. God will not take it away, for he has placed it there for good reasons. He will certainly help us carry it, though, if we are willing to listen and to walk alongside him, but it is his path which we must walk, not our own.
If God had answered my prayers, life would be different. If God had answered my prayers, life might have been easier then and might be easier now. The two problems that became one last year have again separated into two. Neither is resolved. Forgiveness is the answer to the first problem, but it’s hard to forgive. And I still don’t know what to do about the second problem.
But if God had answered my prayers, I could have been walking astray. If God had answered my prayers, I would not know him as well as I now do. When I stopped asking him for things and grew silent, I began to hear his voice. I’m talking to God again. The difference is that I’m also learning to listen.