“You see, the gift the Lord intends for us may be by far the best, but if it is not what we wanted we are quite capable of flinging it back in his face. That is the kind of people we are; ready cash is the only wealth we understand.” (St. Teresa of Avila, Way of Perfection)
Tough words from a tough woman! Sadly, they hit close to home.
How many times do we pray demanding of God a particular solution to a particular problem and insist that it be delivered in a particular way by a particular deadline? We even go as far as to demand a particular color of gift wrapping! Truly, this is not the model our Lord left us when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26). There Jesus expressed His desire and His fear, but in saying, “not my will, Father, but Yours.” He models for us how to completely give ourselves over in trust to the Father. It is as if He is telling us to pray in the following manner, “Father, give us whatever is good for us (St. Teresa, Ibid).”
The Virgin Mary understood this simplicity. At the wedding feast of Cana (John 2), Our Blessed Mother simply mentions the circumstances and brings forward a perceived need. She leaves the rest all up to Her Son to determine what to do, if anything. She does NOT tell him which liquor store to visit, how much money to spend, what products He is to return with, and by what time He should complete the task. Oh Mother! If only I had your sinless heart, I could pray as you pray! But I don’t. In fact, truth be told, that type of simplicity and abandon seems ridiculous to me. It is too simple, too “other focused”, too childlike for a “sophisticated” self-centered miscreant such as me.
Fortunately, Jesus understands this. Fortunately, He knows that a single petition such as “Father, give us whatever is good for us” is too hard for me to grasp, much less imitate. As such, He has left us a slightly more “complicated” prayer that I can chew on and exercise my so-called sophistication because as I ponder this prayer, I see that it has 7 petitions, and for some reason making 7 requests is easier than making 1. I speak of the Our Father.
There is something curious about the Lord’s Prayer, however. Have you even noticed that the first three petitions in the Lord’s Prayer have nothing at all to do with us? They are all directed at God. The first petition, Hallowed be Thy name, is both a confession of faith, as well as a request. By repeating these words, we acknowledge that God’s very name is indeed holy. It is a name above every other name. This is the confession part. The request or petition part is that we are asking that His name be recognized by everyone and that His majesty and grandeur be given the respect that is due. If I am anywhere included in this petition, it is as a beggar requesting to be given the grace to allow my own heart to hallow God’s name properly.
Similarly, the second petition, Thy kingdom come, has nothing to do with me and my wants. It, too, is all God focused. May Your kingdom come, not mine. In fact, though we may not realize it, this implies that if my kingdom needs to fall to make way for God’s kingdom, then so be it. This fact is not specifically mentioned in the Lords’ Prayer however, because, well, my kingdom is so insignificant it is not worth mentioning!
The third petition really gets us to the heart of the matter. Thy will be done. After having been “softened up”, so to speak, we are directed to pray the words Jesus prayed in the Garden. Thy will be done. Not mine, Yours. Your will be done. Repeat those words slowly and let the power of those words rattle you. Terrifying! At least terrifying to someone who has not yet learned to be God-centered rather than self-centered. Which is perhaps why, in the next 4 petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus lets me speak of me. At least sort of. The Lord’s prayer does not teach me to ask to be fed, forgiven, led, or delivered apart from the rest of humanity. I am to ask for these personal needs sure, but in the context of the “us” rather than the “me.” Clever this prayer is!
Perhaps over time, with God’s grace, and only by God’s grace, I will be able to pray the Lord’s Prayer wholeheartedly. Perhaps over time, with God’s grace, I will be able to reduce my petitions simply to “Father, give us whatever is good for us.” And who knows, maybe one day, with God’s grace, I can take it a step further. Perhaps one day I will be able to pray, from the heart, and in any circumstance whatsoever, the following: “Thank You.”
Mary, Model of Prayer – pray for us!