My publisher-friend from Chicago likes the Cubs as much as my mom liked the Cleveland Indians. Twice last week he asked me to pray for a Cubs game. The team won the first game by hitting six home runs. They also won the second game, making them the champs of the National League Division Series. Chicagoans were dancing in the streets. Should I take the credit for this?
Jesus repeatedly told us to ask God for things and not give up. In the second reading on Sunday we heard that we should “confidently approach the throne of grace . . . to find grace for timely help.” But what if God doesn’t answer our prayers? Someone pointed out that God always answers, but sometimes his answer is No. This is sometimes a good thing. My favorite example is the story of the little boy who prayed to have the gift that his uncle had: Each night his uncle was able to take out his teeth and place them in a glass of water. When the boy grew up, he was glad that God hadn’t answered his prayer! We can trust that the good God knows what is best for us and for others.
God answers in other ways. Sometimes he says, “Wait a while” or “I have a better idea.” And as former president Jimmy Carter remarked, sometimes God replies, “You’ve got to be kidding.” I bet that was what Jesus was thinking when James and John requested the best seats in heaven.
Pope Francis once recommended praying to God as Moses did—as a friend. After the Israelites made the golden calf idol, God told Moses he would destroy all of them. Moses argued and negotiated with God. The Holy Father said we should speak like that: frankly, boldly, and if necessary argue and demand action. He illustrated by saying, “Look, Lord, I have this problem, in my family, with my child, with this, with that . . . What can you do? Now see here. You cannot leave me like this!”
Abraham, too, spoke freely with God. When God was about to punish the town of Sodom for its wickedness, Abraham pointed out that as a just judge God would surely not slay the righteous along with the wicked. Then Abraham bargained with God. Beginning with “Suppose there are fifty righteous in the city, would you destroy it?” he worked his way down: forty-five righteous, forty, thirty, twenty, ten. (In the end Sodom was destroyed except for Abraham’s relatives.)
The sister of one of my fellow Notre Dame Sisters was in town presenting her one-person play “Stronger Than the Wind.” Already the mother to two girls, she gave birth to twin boys. In the neonatal ward one son contracted bacteria and suffered a stroke that left him autistic and subject to seizures. He required years of treatment amounting to two million dollars. You can imagine how this affected the family. One day when the exhausted mother was alone in the car, she began screaming and crying. She called out to God, “Why? Why don’t you leave my baby alone?” Suddenly, unexplainably but surely, she heard, “Use your gifts.” Today she gives her play about her struggles, raising funds for the family, whose father is now out of work.
Yes, God invites us to ask for things. However, there are more kinds of prayers than gimme prayers. There are the thanks, oops, and wow prayers. Which kind of prayer do you pray most?