A woman comes into the Cathedral of the Assumption to pray. Her young son is in the hospital diagnosed with terminal cancer.
“God, please don’t take my son from me,” she prays. “The doctors say there is no hope, but I know you can save him. Please don’t let him die.”
The mother’s prayer is heartfelt. The underlying emotions are powerful and overwhelming. In her desperation, she turns to God as her only source of hope.
Does God hear this mother’s prayer? Will he answer her? Will the little boy make it through this ordeal and join the number of children who are cancer survivors?
The answer to the first two questions is “Yes!” God hears our prayers, and he always responds.
But the answer to the third question is more difficult. We don’t know what will happen to the little boy or why.
Jesus taught us to place our most serious problems in his Father’s hands — trusting that he will hear and answer us. That’s the hard part, of course. We have to accept the fact that God’s answer may not be what we want it to be. And it may not come when, or how, we expect it.
Many of the Lord’s own prayers, as they are recorded in the Gospels, receive what may seem to us like unsatisfactory answers. Jesus prays for unity among his disciples, and the answer is “not yet.” He prays for peace, and the answer is “not now.” He prays to have the painful death that awaits him pass from him, and the Father’s response is “no.”
By his words and example, the Lord teaches us how to pray. Sometimes his prayer is public — in the synagogue, or while teaching or healing, surrounded by a large crowd. Other times, the Lord’s prayer is intensely personal — taking place in a remote location. His style of prayer differs according to the occasion. Sometimes he is grateful; sometimes he praises God for his greatness and mercy; sometimes he offers urgent petitions for physical or spiritual healing; and sometimes he even appears angry (as when he cleansed the temple of those who made it a place of commerce instead of a house of prayer).
One thing is consistent in all this wonderful diversity: Jesus prays, and the Father hears and answers him. Sometimes the Father’s answer is painful or disappointing, but because Jesus always adds “your will, not mine, be done,” he is fundamentally at peace with whatever the Father decides.
This is the secret to praying well, I believe: We should ask for whatever we need or want, but always add “your will, not mine, be done.” Is this easy to do? Certainly not. Turning our will over to God is probably the most difficult thing we will ever be asked to do.
May the Lord’s Prayer become our very own. May God’s will, not ours, be done.
Dan Conway is a member of Holy Trinity Church, serves as a member of The Record’s editorial board and is a writer, consultant and stewardship educator.