One Sunday morning, a tall, attractive woman in her mid-thirties approached me after mass and asked if we could talk. I invited her to my office and we sat down to talk.
She said that she had heard one of my homilies three years beforehand and what I had said made her very angry. Obviously I asked her why.
“You told the story about the little girl who wanted a Barbie Doll. The little girl knelt down at bedtime and prayed before Christmas for a Barbie Doll. Christmas came and went, but no doll.
Her birthday was at the end of January, so in her bedtime prayers, she prayed, ‘Please God, I don’t want anything else but a Barbie Doll.’ But when she opened her presents, no doll.
When Easter was approaching, she again knelt and prayed every evening, ‘Please dear God, I don’t want any candy or clothes, just a Barbie Doll.’
Her older brother who had been listening to her prayers every night for months was tired of hearing all of this. ‘Why don’t you just give it up?’ he said. ‘God isn’t answering your prayers.’
The little girl replied, ‘But God IS ANSWERING my prayers.’
“How could God be answering your prayers? You prayed before Christmas and before your birthday and no Barbie Doll,” he retorted. ‘God isn’t answering your prayers.’
‘Yes, God is answering my prayers,’ she protested. ‘God is telling me NO!’”
The young woman in the office who retold the story said, “When I heard you tell that story, I was so angry and so upset with you. There was a guy in my life and I so wanted things to work out for us. I prayed and I prayed to God, but things didn’t work out for us. It’s taken me three years to come back to church because I know now that God was answering my prayers. God was telling me NO!”
In today’s Gospel (Luke 11:1-13), one of Jesus’ disciples says, “Lord, teach us to pray.” And then Jesus teaches them to pray the Our Father.
The Our Father is called the Perfect Prayer because it brings ORDER to our world and ORDER to our lives. And yes, by bringing ORDER to our world and to our lives, God sometimes has to say NO to us.
“Our Father who art in heaven,” lets us know that God is above us, God sees what we can’t see.
“Hallowed be thy name, thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” What we are praying here is, “God, you’re in charge of my life and you’re in charge of the world.”
Then the prayer brings ORDER to the present, the past and the future.
The present – “Give us this day our daily bread.” We pray not just for physical food. Our refrigerators are full of food. We are looking to be fed with support, affirmation and care. We come to church looking to be fed, with Jesus in the Eucharist. Many people come to church praying that the priest or the deacon will say something that will feed their souls.
The past – “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We need to dump the garbage we carry around with us each and every day. Garbage – our own sins, our habits of sin and the bitterness we harbor against others. How do we do this? By forgiving others and by not setting ourselves up to be better than “those people”.
The future – “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.” Most of us have minds that are closed to God. We interfere with God’s plans by putting our plans before God’s plans. This is because we fail to see God’s plans as a blessing for us. Once our minds are in union with God, the whole universe opens up to us.
Then Jesus tells the story of the friend who wakes up a man at midnight for three loaves of bread. The man did not want to get up. But the banging on the door continues. Finally he gets up and gives him the bread.
This is not a parable about persistence in prayer, but about how much more God gives us than the man gives his friend in the parable.
We do not wring gifts from an unwilling God. Rather we go to a loving God who knows our needs better than we do. God does not grudgingly refuse to give us things. God sometimes says NO to us, because God has something better for us.
There is no such thing as unanswered prayers. The purpose of prayer is not to get what you want. The purpose of prayer is to become who you should be.
Think of a time when God said NO to YOU and YOU became very upset.
A DAY WITHOUT PRAYER IS A DAY WITHOUT BLESSING. AND A LIFE WITHOUT PRAYER IS A LIFE WITHOUT POWER!