"Ask and you shall receive."

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Around this time four years ago, I was a floundering sophomore at the University of Iowa. 

I'd had a rough first year away at school and transferred to the U of I with plans to enter into the Journalism & Mass Communications program after a semester's worth of work. I had heard that experience writing for The Daily Iowan looked good on the application, so I set out to be a DI reporter.

On caucus day that cycle, I took a quick, 24-hour hiatus from my winter break and drove back to Iowa City to cover my precinct for the DI. The contributions I made on caucus day were the last of the work that I did there, but the weight of the impact that experience had on me had yet to really set in.

Because around this time four years ago, a greater theme had taken hold for me.

And while my reporting position was a wise career move, I believe in retrospect that I chose it to distract myself from a much greater challenge I was facing.

Around this time four years ago, I was begging God for something He did not give me.

In The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote, "If you do not attain happiness, always remember that you are on the right road, and try not to leave it.”

He later continued, "But I predict that just when you see with horror that in spite of all of your efforts, you are getting farther from your goal instead of nearer to it - at that very moment, I predict that you will reach it and behold clearly the miraculous power of the Lord who has been all the time loving and mysteriously guiding you.”

Over time, I've become a person who is not the one I was four years ago. I love different things, live for different things, prioritize things differently than I did then. I'm not where I thought I'd be, but then again, I no longer want to be there. These changes in my heart happened slowly - like the frog in boiling water metaphor - to the extent that I did not recognize that the changes were happening until they had already taken place.

St. Augustine said that the continuance of our longing is in the continuance of our prayer. Of course, my prayers and longings are hardly the same today as they were four years ago. These changes came as a result of a change in desires, but also as a result of having had no choice but to accept the fact that certain desires I had at the time were simply not in God’s plan for me.

“Ask and you shall receive.” Receive what, God did not specify. He did not say, “Ask and you shall receive exactly what you asked for.” But this is part of the beauty in prayer, and even more so, part of the (infinite) beauty in God. God’s ‘no’ to our prayer does not mean He doesn’t love us - rather, it means that He loves us that much to give us something better than what we’d spent all of that time and energy asking for.

I see now that to have simply given me what I’d been asking for would have been so much less than love. But to instead meet me at my prayer and give me challenges that required me to change, so as to become better and more the way God intended me to be - so as to become more of myself - is a love much more reflective of the inconceivably loving God that we pray to.

And then, to open my eyes to the truth of what is better for me and allow me the opportunity to desire and to pray for that thing, that new thing, that better thing - and to only then grant my request - is a love much worthier of the God who loves us.

What do you do when you've got a cut that won't stop bleeding? Apply pressure. Just the same, how can a person overcome those painfully humbling moments in life that leave us questioning our own character and moral integrity? How can we move beyond those scenarios which challenge us at the very depths of who we are? Enter into them. We must allow ourselves to be submerged in awareness of our imperfection. We must force ourselves to stand toe-to-toe with the truth about ourselves: that we are not so great, not so Christian, not so smart, not so impressive as we might have thought. And then, when we have no choice but to turn to God in our weakness, we ask for more of Him, less of me.

“My power is perfected in weakness,” He told St. Paul.

When we truly get to know God - when we enter into our longing for Him and finally accept that we have very little control over our own circumstances - only then will we really become who God intended us to be.

Because once we’ve accepted these things, fear falls away. Fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of disappointment, fear of sorrow, all suddenly feel like a waste of human capacity. This is because we finally see that rejection and failure are an indication of God's presence. We finally see that those things we do not receive, God did not intend for us.

Or, better said - we were not intended for those things.

And then, in faith, we anticipate so much more and so much better, because we know that this is the work of God.

In faith, we realize that that ultimate “better” is always Heaven - and there is nothing better than that.

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