By Erin Daly
Usually when I do my nightly Ignatian examen before going to sleep, I sit upright on my bed.
But there was a night not too long ago where that somehow didn't feel adequate. I believe that our postures can help us to express what's in our hearts when we pray and that night, sitting felt too casual. This night I was feeling particularly exhausted, overwhelmed, and just broken. So I knelt and propped my elbows up on my bed, the way we often see or imagine children saying their bedtime prayers. It felt childish, and a little awkward, since my bed sits a bit closer to the ground and I'm a grown woman. But what am I if not the Lord's child?
I ran through the blessings and the challenges of the day that had just passed, as you would during an Ignatian examen. And the challenges of the day (really, of the last few months) seemed to far outweigh the blessings. An absence of spiritual consolation. A touch of loneliness in my new city. The snowballing realization of how exhausting it is to be Catholic in our current culture, and the sadness, anger, and cynicism that had been gripping me as a result of it. And an unnerving sense of feeling spiritually off-centered for no known reason ever since I had started my new job.
I looked at the little crucifix I was holding my hands as I prayed, the one I keep on my night stand, and the only words I could muster, the only ones that welled up within me, were the words of the leper in Luke's gospel: "Lord, if you wish, you can make me well."
And I had to pause after I said those words and ponder what they meant.
The man who spoke them in the Gospel knew that Jesus didn't have to heal him. It was entirely up to Jesus whether or not he would be made well.
As easy and great as it would have been for Jesus to zap all my woes away, to fill me with spiritual consolation, to make optimism and hope in the face of opposition easy, to make me a sociable extrovert, to rid me of whatever funk had been making me feel off for three months, as I made that prayer, I realized that He was under no obligation to do so.
Jesus wants our wholeness and our healing. The miracles of healing that He worked in the Gospels, restoring sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, casting out demons, straightening crooked limbs, curing illnesses, are a foreshadowing of the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God, where there will be no suffering, no illness, no physical or spiritual brokenness. He doesn't want us to hurt. All we will be made well.
But even so, He doesn't always heal us when we're broken and hurt.
And as I prayed with the words of the leper, I think I understood why.
Around the time I made this prayer, I watched a video of Fr. Mike Schmitz answering the question, "Will God heal me?" In the last minute of the video, he says something that I've been thinking and praying about ever since I watched it:
"God wants your heart more than He wants your healing."
It hurts to be reminded of this, but we need to hear it often: God doesn't owe us anything. He didn't have to call us into being. He didn't have to invite us into an intimate relationship with Himself. He's given us everything, unto His very life, even unto the most gratuitous and lavish gift of Himself in the Eucharist. Everything He gives is pure gift...we deserve none of it. He is God and we are not and He gives us what we need, even if He doesn't always give us what we want. We can ask, sure. We can pray. He wants us to be persistent in prayer; it demonstrates great trust and great hope!
And sometimes our persistence is rewarded. But not always. There might come a time when it seems like our pleas for healing, for wellness, for whatever it might be, are falling on deaf ears.
In those moments, we have a few choices in how we can proceed. We can treat God like He owes us whatever favor we're asking of Him and we can turn our back on Him for not giving it to us. Or we can trust that God has something for us in our struggle and give ourselves over to Him even when He isn't answering us the way we want Him to.
If the Lord isn't magically making everything in my life better in an instant, it's because He'd rather have all of me than just part of me, if all of me means that I'm crawling to Him shattered and tired but full of trust. He's not content with making me well if it means He doesn't get all of me: all of my trust and love but also all of my weakness, every part of me, to be sanctified and purified and perfected. He's given me everything. I owe Him the same, even if it means giving up my own will and wants.
And it's because He wants me to learn to lean into Him in my difficulties. There is so much grace available in hard seasons that I couldn't receive if God made everything okay. That grace isn't always apparent. Sometimes it's so subtle that we don't notice it and can't name it until the storm has passed. But it's there, waiting for us. God will never withhold it from us. He will never leave us wanting, even if we don't always get what we think we want. His grace is sufficient.
Ask God for what you want. Be bold and confident in naming your desires. Trust that He can do what it is you're asking of Him. But don't lose heart if He seems silent. He's not ignoring you. He might want to give you something else. He might want to take you deeper, to a place where love for and trust in Him aren't dependent on whether He gives you what you want.
Go there. He has you. He'll take care of you. Maybe not in the way you want. But in the way you need.