I had become so accustomed to not wanting.
My life was easy. Great family, job I could be proud of, self sufficiency, supportive friends: I had a satisfying life.
Then in the course of just a few months I had a long-distance relationship and a chronic illness. I try not to overthink their relatedness.
Suddenly I was filled with an emotion that I had never felt with such intensity: frustrated longing. At first I kept it out of my prayer. Perhaps it’s more appropriate to say I kept half of it out. I unloaded the frustration on God. I made no bones about being peeved.
Still, I couldn’t quite articulate the desire. I wanted my sickness to go away, and I wanted an easy solution to being a two-career couple living a few hours apart. I wanted those things badly. I still want them.
Petitionary prayers were always something other people did. One simply does not ask for miracles. It seems somehow déclassé. But I’ve never been one who was good at keeping a secret, so one day at mass my heart unloaded the weight of my prayers and hurled them toward the altar. I felt like I crashed through a plate glass window. In a good way.
At the same time, I was afraid. What if God was mad at me, because even though I still had all my wonderful blessings, and even though I had a new love that was astonishing, I was still finding something to whine about?
What if I didn’t have faith enough to survive not getting what I wanted? What if I couldn’t get past the childishness that made me wail and throw tantrums because I wasn’t getting my way? (At this point, I was crying a lot.)
One day I went to mass during a drought and we prayed for rain and afterward we got soaked. Literally. I thought maybe sometimes prayers are answered simply, just like that. But mine weren’t. And I’m trained in God-talk, so I know all about the standard “sometimes God says ‘not yet'” and “all prayers are answered, just not in the way we expect” lines. They were not helping.
There is a very popular professor at my alma mater who talks about finding “least wrong” ways to talk about God. Right now my least wrong way is this:
God is the one who can hold all of the prayers that feel to me as if they have been thrown into a void. God is the one who knows what to do with the fountain of nervous agony that I have been spewing for the last two years. The more I throw out there, the more God can hold, and I don’t have to understand it. Every novena, every special intention, every gasped, sobbed, whimpered plea has a place in that Glorious Love, and I know that I am drawn into that love by my pleading even when I feel rejected and angry.
When I was in Assisi I saw a statue of Jesus carrying a sheep. It was a modern statue, with thin, abstract figures fashioned on metal. I saw it on a day in the middle of a novena for health, and when I saw it I burst into tears.
I needed to see that statue, not because the Christ figure showed any particular brawn but because of the way the sheep was draped over his shoulders. The resting lamb was just as active in surrender as the shepherd was in support.
I didn’t take a photo of the statue because I knew I needed to hold it in my heart. I cried because I have not yet learned how to rest like that. I cried because I need to learn.