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When God Doesn’t Seem to Answer

This excerpt is taken from CLOSER: Pray Your Way to Intimacy with God by Fr. Bob McConaghy

The question that perhaps is at the center of our problems with prayer is usually something like this: “Father, why does God seem to answer everybody’s prayers but mine? I’ve been praying for my son to come back to church and he hasn’t. I pray that my husband would be healed of cancer and he died. It seems that when I need God the most, that’s when He seems to be the most quiet. God doesn’t answer my prayers.”

Yes, He does. But sometimes in our need, we don’t see what He’s trying to tell us. Psychologists say that when we talk to each other, we experience communication problems in four different areas. In retreats, I ask these questions to help people identify their chief communication problem: “What’s the most difficult for you to do? To speak in front of a group, to make yourself clearly understood, to write a good letter, or to listen?”

Whether my audience is a thousand or five, I’ve never had more than five percent of them say that their chief communication problem is listening. Why? Because speaking in front of a large group of people, making myself clearly understood, and writing a good letter asks the questions, “How am I doing? How am I coming across? Do they understand me?” It’s about me. but listening, on the contrary, asks, “How is the other person doing?”

If you ever sat with somebody and they really listened, you knew it. If somebody for example loses a spouse and you have a cup of coffee with her, the temptation is to say a lot of stuff because you’re uncomfortable. Or maybe you don’t know what to say at all. But what’s the truth in that situation? Being there for that person is one of the most precious things you can do for someone grieving and the greatest gift you can give that person is to listen.

What does listening mean? It means that I’m not going to interrupt what the other person is saying, either verbally or in my mind, preparing for what I’ll say to her. Listening means, “I really want to understand this person.” and when there’s that uncomfortable silence when she talks about her husband, we want to fill it in. You don’t need to. You can simply say, “Tell me more.” and for a full hour, if you simply say, “Tell me more,” and then you leave and go home, that person will say, “Someone finally listened to me without giving me advice. They actually were in touch with my pain.”

Now think about prayer. Prayer is the same way. God listens to us. Did you ever notice that when you pray, God never interrupts? But we can find it difficult to listen to what He says. The truth is, God has answered every prayer you have ever uttered in your life — whether that prayer was a novena, an hour in front of the Eucharist, or a simple, “oh my God, help me!” but sometimes we haven’t heard the answer because we haven’t listened for it. Why? We’re too concerned with our own needs. We can’t see beyond our emotions.

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