We all have things that regularly appear in our prayer petitions. Some are wants, some needs, and some are desires. As the saying goes, “God has three ways to answer our prayers – yes, no, and not now.” Like any good parent, God the Father indulges us but gives preferential treatment to our needs. Sometimes our needs do not correspond with our wants or desires. Then there are times when we need to be patient and wait – the timeline belongs to God
Wants, Needs, and Desires
Wants are the distractions of our souls. We can never get enough of them. Be they money, fame, delicacies, possessions, or admiration, their attainment fails to satisfy. We always want more. Often the want of more is our downfall. Think of gluttony, pride, envy, and the other Deadly Sins. In their extreme sense, they become a mortal sin, requiring confession.
"For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace." (Romans 8:6)
Needs are the essentials that people require to live – nourishment, shelter, clothing, medical care for the sick, and love. Without these necessities, our earthly bodies will soon falter and perish. When we pray for our needs, God hears and helps with these fundamentals. Matthew 6:26 tells us,
“Look at the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, nor reap, nor gather into granaries, and your heavenly Father nourishes them. Are ye not much more excellent than they?”
Desire is the long term range of what we want from our lives. Do we have an important goal, like becoming a saint while here on earth? Is it our desire to serve God while we serve the least of these? Perhaps we feel moved to start a ministry of some sort. If our desire is to live a life pleasing to God, we make sure that we know, love, and serve Him in every aspect of our lives. Then, when we open our hearts to His Word, the path will be illuminated for us.
A Disappointing Response to Prayer
When we receive a response from God, the details might surprise or even disappoint us. If we have the proper disposition, as creature belonging to Creator, we soon begin to realize that a response contrary to our desires may very well be a much better option for our spiritual lives. Surprisingly, it may even be better for our temporal lives as well. All God asks of us is that we keep an open heart and mind. He wants to help us blend His wishes with ours to form us more perfectly for Eternal Life. If we only listen to His call, the prayer answered contrary to our wishes may very well have a wonderful effect - one we never imagined. In any case, making the best of His answers will make for a much more fulfilled life. Father God knows best.
"We are at Jesus' disposal. If he wants you to be sick in bed, if he wants you to proclaim his work in the street, if he wants you to clean the toilets all day, that's all right, everything is all right. We must say, 'I belong to you. you can do whatever you like.' And this is our strength. This is the joy of the Lord." -Saint Teresa of Calcutta
Disappointment for Our Family
My own life gives witness to these truths. Unable to have more children, my husband and I decided to adopt and were chosen by a birth mother. One call we had both deeply felt was to have a house full of children. This fervent desire appeared to be coming true for eight months of the pregnancy. Our excitement was tangible and shared by our other, much older children. As the time drew near, we began to see a change of attitude in the mother - nothing blatantly obvious, just a sense that something vital had changed. When our lawyer made the call for which neither of us was prepared, the tears came in waves for days. Why had we not seen this coming? How did this change of mind come after such a long time? We were devastated.
Fast forward a few years, just when Luke would have been a toddler, I was given a devastating diagnosis - BRCA1 breast cancer. This was not just some take a pill, have a lump removed type of cancer - the gene our family carries has killed every woman in my family - three generations back - at forty to fifty years old. Our lives were turned upside down. From chemotherapy and one surgery after another - one lasting sixteen hours - my outlook appeared bleak. This was a debilitating time in my life - I was as helpless as I had ever been and completely reliant on others. While it was a humbling experience to have my husband and daughter take care of even my most basic functions, there was a joy and love never before experienced.
Had our little Luke come to live with us, I am sure we would have found a way to survive, but knowing he was in a good home helped deal with the empty place in our arms and hearts. Four years later, our daughter was diagnosed with the same cancer. She was twenty-eight years old and twenty weeks pregnant. Again, our lives changed drastically. As I had before her, consultation and surgery took us from Kentucky to Texas. The one-year-old son she already had needed care and days were again filled with nursing a loved one. Times like these find me pondering on the gratitude felt for a loving God the Father, who sees us completely - including our most intimate needs.
Prayer is Dialog
Prayer is an open-ended discussion. It is not akin to asking Santa for some favorite wish or toy. Prayer is an ongoing conversation in which we pose our requests while God tempers our gifts for our own benefit. It is also a lifelong endeavor, allowing us to get to know what our Creator wants for us and an opportunity to work with Him. As the road we travel, here on earth, winds its way this way and that, our needs, desires, and even wants change. As the Master of the Universe, God knows this and sees ahead, down the path of our lives. Where we see only the darkness of an unlit path, He sees fully in the bright light of His love. What we may need tomorrow or next year or five years from now, God already knows. That is why His responses come from a place of pure love – His every move is designed to help us become the best version of ourselves.
The Gift of Unanswered Prayer
If we keep our minds and hearts open to the nuances of God’s hope for us, we will begin to see a pattern. Even as we voice our wants, needs, and desires – we are able to temper our reactions and expectations. We receive the gift of Patience. In the gift of Wisdom, we are able to discern that the more we empty ourselves of corporal attractions, the more open we are to what God has in store for us and the more Fortitude we display as we wait for an epiphany as to what this might be. After all, God the Father knows best.
Advent offers the opportunity for us to empty ourselves and set up room for Him in our hearts. In what is left of this penitent and anticipatory season, let us weigh the significance of our requests. As we discern for ourselves, it would also be a worthy endeavor to focus on the needs, wants, and desires of others during this giving season. May we have an inspirational Advent, leading us to the magnificence of Christmas joy. This is the Gift our Father in Heaven offers to His children - all we have to do is cooperate.
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:13)