prayers that terrify

A leper came to him and kneeling down begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.”

It’s a striking scene.  At the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry- this is, after all, just the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel – a leper comes to ask for healing.

Or does he?  He desires healing, of course, but how does he beg?  Rather than asking, he kneels in front of Jesus and states a fact. He states the truth.  “If you wish, you can make me clean.”  What faith he has – in a man he seemingly barely knows.

The story continues: Moved with pity, He stretched out his hand, touched the leper, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” (Mark 1:40-41)

What if Jesus didn’t will it? I’ve talked here before about the mystery of suffering – Jesus doesn’t always alleviate suffering, even though we know it’s certainly in His power to do so.

And yet, that prayer of the leper was complete openess to Jesus’ divine Will.  Here in the Gospel, the leper shows complete surrender to whatever Jesus chooses to do.  If you will it….

How often are my prayers so open?  I generally pray for a particular intention and then throw in a “if it’s Your will…” at the end, as a sort of clause that makes me feel like I’ve done my job “being open” and now He can grant my request.

You know how I can tell when I’m actually being open?  When there’s a realization in my prayer that I could very well be praying for the opposite of what I desire.  This has happened a few times, and one of them was when I was applying to graduate school a few years ago.  I was applying to get another Masters in Theology in hopes of continuing on the Ph.D. track.  It was a difficult program that accepted very few of their hundreds of applicants. But I had a lot in my favor, and I thought I had a pretty good chance of getting accepted.  Since it was such a prestigious program, I knew that if I was accepted, there would be very little chance that I would turn it down.

So my prayer went something like this.  I want this.  I think it’s Your Will.  Let me get accepted to this program. But… if it’s not Your Will… let me get rejected.  Your will be done…

I knew I was possibly praying for the complete opposite of what I wanted.  And that was really hard.  I would pray and pray and pray … fully knowing that I could be putting all this energy and piety into something I didn’t want.  Or I didn’t think I wanted.

I wrote to a friend during that time of prayer, the weeks leading up to my application deadline, because he too was facing a big decision and possible-change-of-life that same day.

I know this is what I want, although I doubt it daily.  I’m pretty sure it’s what God wants, although I fear it isn’t sometimes.  As I pray this novena, it’s hard for me to accept that if I’m really praying for His will, I might be praying to NOT get into grad school.  And that’s a scary thought.

And same with my prayers for you.  I’m praying that God’s Will be done and that you have peace during the next few weeks and months.  It’s hard for me to pray for that, though, knowing that I might be praying that you don’t hear the answer you want to hear on Dec 14. What if God’s answer is not our answer?  It’s scary, but comforting at the same time.

We’re in a similar boat.  What lies ahead after Dec 14?   If things don’t go “well,” will we blame ourselves and feel like failures?  Or will we see that perhaps God has radically different plans for us?  It’s hard to see His hand in rejection, which is why I fear it so much.  Am I not smart enough?  don’t have a good enough resume?  wrote a horrible statement of intent?  Or does He just have a better plan?

Now, four years later, I can rest in the peace of knowing His will was done.  I didn’t get into grad school (but my dear friend did get his position).  Did I feel rejected?  Absolutely.  Were there tears shed?  Of course. But did I know that God’s Will was being done?  Yep.  He had a better plan.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it and say that praying for His will was easy.  Prayers of complete openness are difficult. And heart-wrenching.  I didn’t feel very warm and fuzzy inside.  But trust and surrender often lack warm fuzziness.

It wasn’t easy to pray for His will, not knowing what that will really was.  It was rather terrifying.  But perhaps I need my prayers to terrify me more often.

The Art of Waiting

Tonight is our monthly Theology on Tap gathering.  I’m in charge of getting the speakers, so I suppose it looks like a cop-out tonight when the speaker is me.

To my defense, people have asked me in the past if I would speak sometime, but it always seemed a little strange for me to speak when I’m supposed to be hosting it.  What am I going do tonight — introduce myself?  I guess so.

But the reason I’m speaking is not because I was too lazy to get a speaker – it’s because the topic I wanted addressed is something that’s been on my heart a lot lately, and when I thought about who I might ask to speak about it, I decided I should just do it.  It would give me a chance to think about it more, and it would ensure what I wanted said would be said!

The topic is the Art of Waiting, a phrase stolen from this book of talks by Mother Mary Francis.

When I told people the name of the talk, people would often ask me, “Waiting?  For what?”  That itself was fruit for meditation.  Aren’t we all waiting for something?  Most of my audience tonight is in the in between stage of their life — many of them have graduated from college or are in graduate school and are discerning their next step.  They may have jobs but are not in serious relationships, or they may be in serious relationships but unsure of marriage.  So we can find ourselves in this period of waiting … waiting for the next step, for the next thing, for what comes next.

But even those not in this in between stage are still waiting for something.  We spend our whole lives waiting.  We wait to get married and then we wait for children and then we wait for those children to leave us alone and give us some peace and quiet.  We say we’ll be happy when we’re married, then we say we’ll be happy when we have kids.  We say we’ll be happy when we discern our vocation, and then we say we’ll be happy when we make final vows.

If we aren’t happy waiting… we ain’t going to be happy.  Because ultimately, the only time in our life we won’t be waiting for something is after we die and go to Heaven.  Then we’ll be perfectly happy.

So really, we’re all waiting to die.  But no one really thinks about that.

Tonight’s talk is gong to tackle a few things:

-The two extremes of waiting: 1) those who never wait [Christmas without Advent, instant gratification] and 2) those who always wait [people who are afraid to take the next step, who’d rather perpetually discern rather than take a leap of faith]

-What we do while we wait

-The remedy Jesus Christ gives us while we wait – also known as the “pledge of future glory” …

So if you’re in the area, come by Corner Pub tonight, buy me a beer, and hear it for yourself.  If you’re not in the area, well, invite me to speak to your Theology on Tap group sometime … because I know there are lots of Catholic young adults out there in the same predicament.

In the meantime, I have Mumford and Sons on repeat.  Which song?  Oh, you know.