In Eugene O’Neill’s play, “The Great God Brown,” we see a man on his deathbed and he is frightened. At his side is his mother and she speaks to him as though he were still a child saying, “Go to sleep Billy, it is alright.” He replies, “Yes mother.” And then he says, “It was dark and I could not see where I was going. And they all picked on me, they know I am bad.” The mother says, “But you are tired now, go to sleep.” He answers, “But when I wake up what will it be like?” She says, “The sun will be rising.” Then Billy says in great seriousness, “To judge the living and the dead.” And in great fear he says, “I do not want justice, I want love.” Billy shows us that prayer originates in our concept of God. St. John tells us that God is love. Billy fears God may be justice. These are different viewpoints and your viewpoint is going to color the way you pray.
If you see God as an all-seeing, critical eye or whether you see God as a pair of arms that embrace you. Obviously, that is going to influence the way you pray. So ask yourself, “What is my image of God? What is God like for you? A loving friend or a strict taskmaster?” There is a woman, Sandra Johnson, a mother of two girls who writes in Commweal Magazine about her prayer life. She is a lawyer who teaches and lectures. She is on the road quite a bit so she has to make time for prayer. Both she and her husband belong to a prayer group that meets monthly. She also makes two short retreats a year. On the other side she says, “There are times when I do not pray. My prayer life is dry and my relationship with God is distant.” There is also another side to her life.
Sandra’s husband has multiple sclerosis. They have known about it for five years. She says, “Only recently have I been willing to listen to what that means in relationship to God’s plan for me, my husband and family.” She says she is able to cope only with the help of her prayer group. I like the question she asks, “What does this mean? This terrible tragedy in relationship to God’s plan for me.” And the only way she can come to terms with that is through prayer. And I suspect it is the same with many of us.
What does it mean when you’re disappointed?
What does it mean when you’re being fired from work?
What does it mean to be alienated from your family?
What does it mean to be divorced?
What does it mean to be told of a terrible illness?
What does it mean to say, “I am addicted?”
What does it mean to come to terms with the decision to put a parent in a nursing home?
What does all this terribleness mean? How do I handle it? How do I cope?
The only way I know to come to terms with these things is through prayer. You want to know what this or that tragedy means in reference to your relationship with God and those around you. Talk to God–that is why we come here every week to share with God and each other. There are two more things about prayer. First, there is what I call the prayer of embarrassment. You know people who do not think of God in good times but let tragedy or sickness strike and they are banging on the church door. And I hear it all the time, I never go to church and I never pray. I never really think of God. Now the chips are down, the doctor told me I have cancer so now I am turning to God. But I almost feel squeamish or embarrassed. People like that forget that God has no pride. You are dealing with a God who is so humble yet so foolish and stupid in our eyes that this God runs to meet the prodigal. This God leaves the ninety-nine to look for the one. God is probably the only one in our lives who stoops to conquer. So never let the prayer of embarrassment stop you from approaching God. It is music to God’s ears.
Secondly, we have the prayer of hindsight. Everyone who is over twenty-five knows what that is. You go through life; there are things that are terrible and painful, ones that leave scars. But sometimes, when you look back in hindsight, you can say to the Lord, “I never want to go through that again. But it made me a better person; it made a difference in the way I look at life. And the way I live life, the way I treat others.” The gospel tells us today:
Ask and will receive…
Seek and you will find…
Knock and the door will be opened…
One thing that we have to realize is that in prayer God will not always give us what we ask for. But God will always give us what we need.