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“‘Supposing the Pope looked up and saw a cloud and said ‘It’s going to rain’, would that be bound to happen?’
‘Oh, yes, Father.’
‘But supposing it didn’t?’
He thought a moment and said, “I suppose it would be sort of raining spiritually, only we were too sinful to see it.’”1

How many times have you prayed and actually expected an answer?

“For peace among all the nations, we pray to the Lord. –Lord, hear our prayer.” Yeah, right, we in the pews are thinking, and I’d like a pony, too. Stop our wars! Cure our cancer! Get my brother-in-law a job! But please, don’t bother if it’s too much trouble.

Prayer is supposed to be a conversation with another Person, and we pretend that it is, but more often it’s really a kind of wishful monologue, an airing of vague desires. We should be saying, Please won’t you do this? But more often we’re really saying: Wouldn’t it be nice if that were possible.

That’s not prayer, it’s wishful thinking. I call it wishful thinking, not because it’s unrealistic to expect God to answer our prayers, but because we don’t expect anything of the kind. We manage our expectations, like a cancer patient waiting for the results of his latest test. Because we secretly suspect that God either doesn’t exist, or just doesn’t care. Or maybe, we tell ourselves, he’ll answer our prayers “in a spiritual sense” — which is to say, not at all.

It’s like a man who won’t try to walk after spinal surgery: Maybe my legs will work and maybe they won’t, but if I stay in this wheelchair then I can’t be disappointed.

Last Sunday I went to Adoration angry. I didn’t know why I was angry, didn’t even notice the storm building until it was already a typhoon. I went to give God half an hour, but five minutes in I realized it wouldn’t be enough, and told him so: No, you’re not getting off that easy. You tell me what this is about. I’ve got all evening, and I’m not leaving until you say something.

He said something, all right. He showed me a memory,2 an old unhealed wound from 15 years ago. Okay, I said, so why did you let it happen? Why did you let me get hurt that way? Where were you? I was almost surprised when he answered that question, too, and answered it to my satisfaction.

Sorry, readers, you don’t get to know the answer. I don’t think it would mean anything to you even if I told you; you’ll have to ask Jesus for your own answers. But what he said to me made me sob and shake like a toddler in his father’s arms.

Which is exactly where I was, and where I remain.

1 Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited.
2 This, and what comes after, has very much to do with the book I’m reading — Crisis in Masculinity, by Leanne Payne. The book talks about something called the healing of memories, which is exactly what happened here. Do take a look!

17 thoughts on “My Father’s Arms

  1. Nate

    I’ve also heard it called “purification of memories” and it’s good to hear that these prayers get answered. It’s not about remembering only the good, but about putting memories in perspective….approaching them with a purified heart. And we all need it.

    Reply
  2. Dan Hogan

    Wonderful! We’re told all these things about prayer – visiting God, talking with Him, listening. So many times it is sufficient just to rest “in His arms!” Thanks again!

    Reply
  3. Jamie

    Sometimes, when I ask God for answers and He gives them to me clearly, I get mad that He told me, because I realize that I didn’t actually want to know that right now. “Jeez, Jesus, you know what’s best for me, couldn’t you have just given me a NO on that one…???”

    Fickle…

    …but it’s so beautiful that we serve a God who truly cares. Sigh.

    Reply
  4. Christine

    I rarely, if ever, get clear answers from God about anything, least of all when I’m asking the kinds of questions you were asking. Still, in a long, slow process, God has brought me healing even if He hasn’t brought answers. I think He wants me to be content with the mystery. My case is probably very different from yours, Steve, and God, the Divine Physician, seems to have chosen exactly what was needed to bring healing. As Jamie says, we serve a God who truly cares.

    Steve, I’m so glad for you that you experienced an answer and what sounds like some really deep healing in prayer. I’m always amazed when prayer brings healing that might otherwise take years of counseling.

    Still working on the whole trusting God to take care of things that aren’t just interior, though…

    Reply
  5. Ron

    So often, we think our prayers go unheard, or unanswered. It’s only later (sometimes much later) when we look back on what has happened in our lives that we understand that our prayers were answered, and not always in the way we expected when we prayed. It’s good to keep a journal to keep track of our inner journey.

    Read and reflect on Psalm 136, which praises God for all He has done for the chosen people. Every verse ends with “God’s love endures forever”. I often encourage people to make this psalm their own by praising God for all He has done in their lives, ending each line with “God’s love endures forever”. The Church has a sacred memory, and so does each one of us.

    Reply
  6. Laurie

    I am so excited by this post because this is so much like the walk He’s taken me on recently. It started with calling me to task on the fact that I don’t actually ask Him (which you’ve quite neatly laid out). And so He prompted me on something to ask about – I did – and it was like heaven’s gate’s were thrown open… if only regarding that one issue for a few days. But it was wonderful! And it only confirms that He’s everything He says He is. And it’s like He took mercy on me to gather me under His arm, to walk a little closer, so that I would know the feel and stand firmer against the temptation to wander.

    Reply
  7. Mark from PA

    I just got back from Mass and did spend some time in Eucharistic Adoration. God bless you all here.

    Peace & Love – Mark

    Reply
  8. Brother B

    Love this. Sometimes I go to our chapel for daily adoration, and after two minutes, I feel like I have to run, like being in the presence of Love Incarnate is just too hard for me, especially for a man with memories like I have, buried inside and not dealt with.

    I used to just run away, but now I force myself to stay, even if I spend the whole hour just arguing with God or myself, and letting the burning fire of His love shine on me.

    Thanks again, Steve. Glad I found this blog

    Reply
  9. Daniel

    I had a similar instance several years ago, when I got on my knees and kinda angrily said “…and I’m not leaving until You talk to me”. He spoke very clearly, but what He said wasn’t nearly as important as learning that the Father can take it when out of anger, we pull on His beard. I wonder if sometimes He is waiting for us to do that very thing.

    Reply
  10. Tish Anderson

    I’m so glad that I read this because it reminded me of what prayer is. God has answered so many of my prayers but I’ve been so intent on looking for them to be answered the way I want and don’t realize until later that He answered them exactly the way they should have been, for my own sake. Thanks for sharing your story. God is good!

    Reply
  11. Stephanie

    Steve-love your blog and your open, transparent heart. Love Leanne Payne’s book and another one who is on the same wavelength is Brad Jersak “Can You Hear Me? Tuning In To The God Who Listens”. Listening prayer is such a beautiful expectant time.

    Reply
  12. WSquared

    “He said something, all right. He showed me a memory,2 an old unhealed wound from 15 years ago.”

    I know what this is like. This happened to me a couple of days ago at Adoration, before and after Confession. When I went to talk to the priest again after Confession, remarking that praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament revealed something else to me that I needed to bring before the Lord in the confessional, he said, “he spoke to you, didn’t he.”

    Reply
  13. Rose

    I have been praying for an intention every day for more than a year, and I sometimes get angry and feel that I am being ignored. But when I look back on other “unanswered prayers” in my life, I can often see how God did answer the prayer, in a way that I didn’t expect, and in a way that helped me more than I expected. I just couldn’t see it until years later.

    Reply

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