A few weeks ago, a family friend asked me a question about prayer. "What's the point," he wondered "of praying for what you want when we're taught in the Our Father to say 'Thy will be done.'?" Since then, I've struggled to articulate a coherent response -- having promised him a more considered opinion than I was capable of on the spot, in the car.
Michelle Francl-Donnay, blogger, columnist and frequent presence in the comments section of this blog, has a recent article that I found helpful and insightful in my conundrum. She recounts being asked to pray for friends and what that means. In so doing, she offers a reflection that gets at the general posture of "asking" for things in prayer:
In assuring each of my friends that I would pray for them, I wasn’t offering to make some generic noise in the direction of God’s ear and move on. I meant that I was willing to wrestle with God on their behalf, to cry aloud to God that He might hear them. To ask God for what they need, specifically and repeatedly.
Walter Brueggemann, in his short book “Praying the Psalms,” notes that we often strive for a “cool, detached serenity” in prayer. We want to approach God gracefully and well collected.
Yet the prayers and songs that are the psalms, Brueggemann points out, are uncomfortably concrete. The psalmists do not shy away from asking God for exactly what they desire, couching their petitions in everyday words and images. Wheat and water. Bees and mud.
But asking for what we most need or want -- or think we want -- is not a contradiction of then praying "Thy will be done." She quotes Karl Rahner discussing this very same question:
Rahner advises us to look instead at Christ praying, gasping out His prayers that the cup might pass Him by. He is not afraid to ask directly. He is sure He is heard. And yet simultaneously He offers His unconditional submission to what God wills.
Again, the rest is here.
Timothy O'Brien, SJ