April 3, 3014
From the time many of us raised in Christian homes were small, we were taught to pray. Pray for others, pray for what we want/need, pray in thanksgiving and adoration. Often, when we reach adulthood, the prayers of petition become our main reason for praying if our faith has not matured.
I remember as a child that my Mother would say in frustration, “You kids have a terrible case of the ‘gimmes'”. What we wanted was either not in the budget or it was something our parents deemed bad for us. As kids we weren’t aware of how much we were doing this, or that we were looking at our parents as some kind of vending machine that would drop out whatever we asked for.
Fast-forwarding to today, I can say that it was a hard learning for me to not view God as a vending machine. Perhaps it was because in all my years outside the Church I forgot how to really pray. Time apart from God will do that. When I look back on all the frivolous things I prayed for, I hang my head in shame. Even in praying for things that were not frivolous I lacked the one thing necessary that we were all taught as children in our family – a spirit of submission to the will of God.
The God-As-Vending-Machine mentality is a result of what psychologists call “magical thinking”. We, unknowingly, think that if we make this or that novena, say x number of rosaries, give money to the poor, fast, etc. that we are automatically going to get what we want. Just put the money in, press the right button, and out pops the answer to our prayers. When we think this way we are assuming we have some kind of power over God that can force Him to give us what we want if we only jump through all the hoops out there. After all, it worked for Saint So-and-so, so why not us?
If we’re approaching God in this way we are doomed to disappointment. We are not considering what Jesus told us in Matt. 5:8, “Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God.” To rightly know what to ask for, we first must do a thorough housecleaning on our desires. In Mark 7: 20-23 Jesus talks about that clean heart:
What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of a man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.
Saint So-and-so received answers to his prayers because he had a clean heart and asked for what he wanted in that spirit. Does it not follow, then, that if we are asking God for this, that, and the other material thing and at the same time we are doing nothing to curb our greed, our tongue, our lust, we are not in a disposition to receive what we’re asking for? God will never give us anything that will hurt us, no matter how many rosaries we pray. He will always, though, give us what we need. Sometimes that gift is the withholding of something we’re asking for chiefly because we are not ready to receive it, or in receiving it we would veer from the path He desires for us.
I am reminded of a married couple who were in deep trouble with their relationship. The man thought that if he gave thousands of dollars to this and that charity, if he made this and that novena and prayed the rosary with his family, that everything would magically get better because he was doing all the right things. Except that he wasn’t. He did not want to admit his drinking problem and he did not want to view his wife as anything other than a servant rather than as a partner whose views deserved due consideration. He did not view his great income as “family money” for the support and sustenance of his wife and children but rather as his to spend however he wanted on himself. Finally, because he refused to submit to God creating a clean heart in him, he lost his family.
One time I got very angry with God because He wasn’t giving me what I wanted. “Why aren’t you helping me?” I yelled. It took a few years before I got the understanding. It was, “Because you’re not doing what I want you to do.” Obvious now but not then. I was consumed with getting what I wanted and it most definitely wouldn’t have been good for me nor for the people God had in mind for me to help one day.
The Germans have a saying, “We grow too soon old and too late smart.” In our prayer life our disposition must always be, “Thy will be done.” It is never a problem to ask for something as long as we are not so attached to getting what we want that we get angry with God for not giving it to us. Moreover, as we seek, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to clean our hearts from all the attitudes Jesus condemned, we become more sensitive to what we should ask for, both on our behalf and our neighbor’s behalf. When the self-centeredness clears out, the peace of Christ moves in and we learn to recognize all the gifts God is giving us without our even asking for them. We become “smart” in what to ask for, and are able to experience the joy of the Holy Spirit regardless of our circumstances. With the psalmist we can say,
A clean heart create in me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me. (Ps. 51:10)
We can save ourselves a lot of grief if we learn what we need to know early and don’t become “too late smart.”
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R. Now and forever!
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