Pointless Prayers

Tomorrow will be seven weeks.  Seven weeks since my dad went from, “I don’t feel well,” to being rushed to the hospital.  Seven weeks from, “It’s just the flu shot…” to, “I’m sorry, but it’s sepsis.”  Tomorrow will be seven weeks since I went from feeling that last nagging, “You really should call your dad…” to “I miss being able to call my dad!”  Seven weeks from my father being a healthy, active, kind hearted man to a man fighting hourly for his life.  Seven weeks from dropping in on my mom’s Echo dot in the evenings so I could chat with my parents while cooking to calling my mother a few times a day not just to check on my father but also make sure she and my sister are doing ok.  Seven weeks from everything in our family finally calming down…to that pealing phone ring because my brother was calling with devastating news.  Seven weeks from, “Is he going to make it through the night?!” to “Is he going to make it through this latest complication??”

Seven weeks.

But it was only a few hours that changed everything that I understood about prayer.  How pointless my prayers were.

As I boarded the plane on the 17th of October, I prayed hard. “Please Lord, don’t take him until I get there.  Please don’t take him at all.  It’s not his time, Lord.”  “Hang on, Daddy, at least until I get there…”  My six siblings and I stood vigil at his bedside for nearly a week during the initial sepsis diagnosis, praying one rosary after another.  Begging for his healing, making promises with God.  At different points, any one of us hit our breaking point and broke down into desperate tears, still begging for his healing; we literally hit our knees in his dark hospital room, asking for this man’s healing.

And my prayers were so pointless.

I have long been guilty of asking God for what I wanted.  I have long thought that if I say my prayers phrased a certain way, I will get exactly what I want.  I have literally spent upwards of fifteen to twenty minutes perfectly wording then rewording my intentions during a novena or rosary.  This is how I want it, God. Neatly wrapped and just as I ask.  As prayers have inevitably gone unanswered in the past, I have blamed myself for not choosing the right prayers, not picking the right words, not phrasing my intentions the right way.  I have cried to friends in my darker moments, asking, What am I saying wrong?  Why is He not answering me?

My prayers were so pointless.

Multiple times in the last seven weeks, I have walked out of my father’s hospital room knowing he may not make it through the night…or the next few moments.  I have hyperventilated in my sisters’ arms, or held another sibling up as tears fell down my own cheeks.  I have lit candles in the loneliest, quietest hours of the night, saying rosary after rosary that this latest complication would not take him from our lives.  That the Lord would heal him.  That God would let him stay here.

But, my prayers were so pointless.

Prayer is not a hostage demand to Jesus.  “Listen….if you fork over my will, I will give you five first Saturdays of Mass….and a huge donation to charity….and no more ice cream for six months…”  If you grant me my answers, I will continue to pray…

That kind of prayer is so pointless.

Recently, as I was making dinner for my family (and it was going to be an especially amazing dinner), my four year old sidled up next to me.

“Mommy? May I have a cookie?”

“Um…no.  I’m making dinner.”

“Please, Mommy!  Please!  What if I do a chore for you?  Will you give me a cookie?”

In that moment, my young daughter thought that a cookie was the best thing for her.  She was willing to barter a chore just to get that precious cookie.  Because she couldn’t see.  She couldn’t see that I was cooking fresh vegetables, healthy protein, a balanced meal for her.  All she saw was that that cookie tasted really good, that she was hungry, and she wanted that cookie.  And I, knowing a better good for her, said no.

Sometimes, oftentimes, our prayers are answered differently.  Sometimes, God says, no.  Because God has a greater good for us. Yes, it’s hard to see.  Yes, sometimes we won’t ever fully understand his no, his different answers.  But there is faith, just like in our young children, that God knows far better than us.

Prayer is not hostage negotiations.  It is not bartering.  Prayer is conversation.  Prayer is indeed telling our heavenly Father our wants, our needs, our desires.  It is not the expectation that those will be answered exactly as we have meticulously phrased them.  Instead, it is trusting that the Lord knows better.  Trusting that, even though we wanted the ultrasound to show a heartbeat, that His will for that baby to live with Him in glory is a better good.  Sometimes, it’s the dark moments of an unpaid bill, the loss of a job, the loss of a family member,  that we trust Jesus’s will is so different, but oh so much better, than our own will.

This hit me early on, as I was on my knees at the foot of my father’s hospital bed, begging for “his full and uncomplicated healing.”  It hit me each time the phone rang and my sister or my mother wept with more dire, life-threatening news.  It hits me daily as I realize that, we can’t lose.  None of us.  Ultimately, the Lord wishes our complete good.  He wishes for us to join Him in heavenly glory.  Sometimes, the things we desire–that longed-for baby, the better paying job, the boyfriend right now, the survival of an ill family member–sometimes our desires are in line with His, and He blessedly grants our prayers.  And sometimes, He has to say no to the four year old in us who wants a cookie at dinner time.  Sometimes, our desires are not the best for us, and that won’t make sense.

More than anything, when prayer makes sense, it’s an act of trusting conversation.  It’s saying, “Lord, would you please heal my father?  Would you please heal his heart, heal his blood, heal his body?  But, if its’ not your will Lord, I trust you.  I thank you.”

How hard it is to form these words, when life isn’t our idea of perfect.

But, very simply, He is our Father.  The Father who can see and understand the bigger picture far better than we can.  He is a loving Father who wants us all to join Him in glory.  And He wants us to want that.  Most of the time we do.  Some of the time, though, that cookie looks like the better good.

Prayer is trusting Him, even when he says no.  Even when He says not yet. Prayer is still praising Him, still loving Him, still talking to Him, even as he’s saying that no;  prayer is trusting Him even as he whispers into our souls, Not yet.

Lord, please answer my prayers.  But Your will, not mine, be done.  

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