God is not a personal prayer vending machine

| Nell O’Leary Alt | September 26, 2017 | 1 Comment

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I used to pray out my fixed, rigid request list. I considered God to be my personal prayer vending machine. Prayer in; prayer answered.

Maybe you’ve done this too?

Please send me just the right husband. Not too pious, not too rowdy, not too far away.

Please let me ace this test. Blind the grader if need be. I just want an A.

And I’d like to get recognition for my unseen work, please. It’s OK if that recognition is public and grand.

While we’re at it, make that one friend stop annoying me.

In carving out God’s to-do list, I felt gratified. I had prayed (check), been introspective (check) and been honest (check). My prayer life, however, was not only lacking the listening portion, but an openness to being changed by the very act of praying.

It’s his grace we receive, not our requests granted. It’s in enduring surrender when all we want is certitude that we can find our assurances of his presence. These priests and elders saw St. John the Baptist, Jesus’ own cousin and a holy prophet, in their midst. They heard his heart; they didn’t change their minds (Mt 21:32). What a contrast to the son who replied to his father, “‘I will not,’ but afterwards changed his mind and went” (Mt 21:29). He changed, and so can we.

My prayers sound a little different now that I’ve fallen to my knees in desperation a few times.

Let me be a bigger vessel for your love.

Work on my heart to do your will.

I’m a flawed, failed woman. I want to cling to my old ways of presenting God with the options I’d like him to fulfill for me. But maybe, if we can avail ourselves of his graces, and live open to change, we can enter into the kingdom. Even after we snarl and snap out a “no” to his request to do his work in this world, this vineyard. Even after we seal up our hearts, fooling ourselves into feeling in control of our lives. Even then, we can change our minds, believe him, and say “yes.”

If you’ve stayed the stubborn course in your life on one matter or another, take it to our Lord in adoration. Take sins to him in the sacrament of reconciliation. Take your cleansed person to him in the Blessed Sacrament. He’s big enough to let us flounder our way back to him.

O’Leary Alt is managing editor for Blessed is She, a ministry for Catholic women, as well as a recovering lawyer married to her law school love. They live and breathe baseball with their four kids in St. Paul. She blogs at http://www.wholeparentingfamily.com.


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  • Charles C.

    “My prayer life, however, was not only lacking the listening portion, but
    an openness to being changed by the very act of praying.”

    A good reminder (and gentle scold) to me. Maybe someone else as well?