“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; 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” (Lk 11:9).
We can be frustrated in prayer because when we do make the time to pray, we feel or think that nothing is happening or has happened. We may pray for a specific petition for our self, or for a particular intention for another and felt, or thought, that there was not an answer from God. One may pray a sincere, seemingly selfless prayer for a loved one, a child, a spouse, a friend, to be healed and the person still dies. They may be deeply hurt because they did what Jesus said; they asked, they pleaded and begged, but felt they did not receive the healing; that which they sought for, was not given and, instead what they found was nothing but pain and heartache from the loss; they knocked until their knuckles were raw and experienced no one on the other side.
Our attitude and orientation to prayer matters. When we sincerely turn our hearts and minds to God in prayer, something happens between us and God, though it may be beyond our cognitive grasp to understand or our sensory awareness to experience. There may indeed be emotional highs and consolations experienced in prayer, but if seeking those is the primary motivation for prayer we will find ourselves more frustrated than not. There may also be lows in prayer, dryness, even desolations, and even feeling God’s absence are also a reality. Emotions are fleeting and not a good barometer when measuring the effectiveness of prayer.
Another big misconception is that we pray to God as if he were a gumball machine. It may seem a silly analogy, but how many of us really do pray and only pray that way, and when we do not receive the specific thing we asked for, at the time specified, when we wanted and as we wanted, we brood and think God doesn’t care or does not, in fact, even exist. We may even slip into the barter posture. God if you grant me this, I will do that. If we are only open to receive what we want on our terms, again we are setting ourselves up for frustration.
The very desire to pray, a turning our hearts and minds to God though, is an answer to his invitation, for he is the one who reaches out to us. The answer to what or who we ask, seek, and knock is found at the end of the Gospel reading for today: “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (Lk 11:13)?
God knows what is best for us, he sees our potential, he wants us to experience joy and be fulfilled. How can we best live our lives in this world to attain that reality? We do so by receiving the Holy Spirit. Who is the Holy Spirit? The infinite, communal love expressed between God the Father and God the Son. Our goal in prayer is to enter into God’s reality of infinite Love.
Through building a relationship with God, which we are able to through our participation and conformation to the life of Jesus, we come to see the truth of empty promises, apparent goods, substitutes to fill our emptiness and faulty defense mechanisms that we have been utilizing as guideposts to merely survive and get through life.
When we stay consistent in an authentic prayer life our lives will change, we will begin to bear the fruits of the Holy Spirit which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control (cf. Galatians 5:22-23)?
Why may God not appear to answer a prayer for our healing or for a loved one with a chronic condition or one who is dying? I do not know. But we need to resist running from the pain of loss and be willing to trust that God has not abandoned us but is with us as we spend time in prayer. The tears that arise from our suffering can then become a healing salve, a doorway into the open arms and embrace of Jesus who awaits us in the depth of our grief and pain. Even our loved ones, who have died, have not come to an end but have experienced a new beginning with our loving God and Father. JoAnn often would say in her last few weeks that she was just changing her address.
Ultimately, what we ask, what we seek, and what we knock for when we pray is to be loved, to belong, to be a part of something, someone greater than ourselves. We have been created as a living, craving hunger, and desire to be one with God and each other. This is true for the atheist and the mystic alike. We have been created to be loved and to love.
The Holy Spirit is the gift of prayer that is open to us all. He is the love shared between the Father and the Son, that we too can experience. This is why he is the answer to our prayer, though sometimes to be aware of him in our lives takes perseverance. It may not be that God is not answering, but that we are not patient enough to receive the answer. Prayer is about building a relationship and like any other relationship before we can grow into it, we may be needing more time to heal or to build trust, and we must spend time together. Most importantly we need to learn to communicate and that means learning God’s profound language of silence.