On Thursday of last week, I “happened” to come across an insert in another parish’s upcoming bulletin where the parochial vicar wrote a reflection about scripture verses I’ve struggled with for years: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8 NASB).
I’ve heard those words so many times during my life. When I was smoothly rolling through life, they were the most beautiful and comforting words. If I ask anything of the Father, I will receive it. Hooray! What more could I want than this? A personal genie who grants my wishes…that’s winning, right?!
And then I underwent suffering which has persisted for many, many years, despite my prayers to be healthy again. I have fervently prayed for a miraculous healing for myself, as have others, but that hasn’t happened yet. I fully believe God can heal me at any time, but I’m still waiting. In my mind, God hasn’t answered my/our prayers. This produced spiritual tension within myself because every time I heard those particular scripture verses from Matthew, I didn’t know how to process them compared to my daily reality in the absence of the physical healing for which so many of us have prayed.
God hasn’t answered my prayers, or so I thought. In my mind, if He had answered my prayers, I’d be well right now. I think most of us can relate to the feeling that our prayers have seemingly gone unanswered. Circumstances in our lives didn’t go smoothly, or our loved ones weren’t healed, or we weren’t spared heartache or illness personally, or reconciliation that we longed for didn’t happen, etc. How do we make sense of this, especially in light of these verses from Matthew’s gospel?
Enter Fr. Cletus’ words in his parish’s bulletin insert: “…when we do pray, our prayer is answered by God. The answer to our prayer comes in three ways: (i) Yes […];(ii) No […]; (iii) Wait […]. Either way, God always answers our prayer.”
That “Either way, God always answers our prayer” struck me deep in my core. It made me realize that God is always answering my prayers, even if it’s not with the “yes” I am desiring.
This was on my heart last Thursday after reading that reflection, and then I went to daily Mass that evening. I was astounded when I heard those verses from Matthew in the gospel reading that very same day! What are the odds? Yet another incident of it being no coincidence!
I had always envisioned an answer to my prayers as being a “yes” from God, as me getting what I wanted. But I could finally more clearly hear God speaking to me about this, helping me to draw a much-needed conclusion. What I’m asking, seeking, and knocking for, as per Matthew’s gospel, is an answer. What God will always give, allow me to find, and open the door to…is an answer… and His loving presence. I’d misread this scripture my entire life, up unto this point. Now, this is an absolute game changer for me!
Through prayer and reflection, I feel like God is showing me that what He guarantees is an answer, and that the answer can be “yes,” “no,” or “wait.” He isn’t guaranteeing me to get exactly what I want every time, because He isn’t a genie, and I shouldn’t look to Him as such. He is guaranteeing His presence and to give me a “yes,” “no,” or a “wait.” Not getting what I want does not mean that He did not answer my prayer. It means that He gave me an answer different than the one I was hoping to receive. God’s guarantee is not to always give me what I want, but to always be present to me, listen, and give me an answer for that point in time.
So, when I’ve been thinking that God was not answering my prayers, He was actually giving me an answer- either a “no” or a “wait.” It might not have been the answer I was looking for, but He was not leaving me hanging!
I always envisioned “ask and it will be given to you” to mean receiving the exact thing I was asking for, “seek and you will find” to mean the desires of my heart would be met in the ways I expected them to be met, and “knock and the door will be opened to you” to mean that obstacles would be instantly removed so that things could go my way. Nope! Though He can do those things, He doesn’t always.
I now realize that a better way for me to look at those scripture verses is that I’m asking for one of three answers, seeking His will, and knocking on the door of a loving father always ready for me to approach Him.
I had struggled with those verses for so long, but that priest’s divinely inspired words were exactly what I needed to read to catapult me into understanding God in a deeper, more authentic way. This new understanding helps me to better trust God and receive His love.
Of course nothing is impossible with God, so no ask of mine is out of His reach. While He can do anything, He doesn’t always step in like we see fit. He wants us to petition Him and choose to involve Him in our lives, but He will only answer “yes” to the requests that are in accordance with His will at that given time. No human can understand His will or why He only chooses to say “yes” to some things at certain times. Instead, we are called to seek His will above desiring our requests. We are called to trust in His will and to surrender to His will, knowing that sometimes He doesn’t intervene in the way/timeframe we ask because He can bring more good out of the situation another way. He always gives us an answer, though, and He is always there with us during the ups and downs of life, desiring for us to be willing participants in His plan.