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What you should do when your prayers aren’t answered

'Offering prayers of thanksgiving when prayers are not answered can be very good for our soul ' (CNS)

St Teresa of Avila once said: “You pay God a great compliment by asking great things of Him.”

Those words came to mind recently when I read an account of a blind man who implored Padre Pio to restore his sight “in one eye”. The man went away, and came back to Padre Pio a few weeks later saying that he had indeed regained sight in one eye. On hearing this, Padre Pio exclaimed: “Ah! Only from one eye? Let that be a lesson to you. Never put limitations on God. Always ask for the big grace!”

Some may think it sounds arrogant to petition heaven with such enormous requests. But it is not the case that we should pray in a prideful, entitled way where our swelled heads are convinced we are owed certain big favours and graces from God. The way to pray is having the opposite mindset of the L’Oréal commercial where the model boasts that she is “worth it”.

Padre Pio taught that cultivating personal purity and humility would shape someone’s disposition so that it was pleasing to the Lord. “Humility and purity are the wings which carry us to God,” he said.

Humility and trust in God go hand in hand, because when our prayer requests are not answered, we must trust that God is doing it for our good. We are emotional beings, and we may think that we will be happy if a certain prayer is answered. But we must acknowledge that we may not be correct. We must have the humility to say that we do not know best, only God knows best. Were our prayer answered, it might bring more suffering than if it were it not. As St Teresa is believed to have said: “There are more tears shed over answered prayers than over unanswered prayers.”

The danger with answered prayers is that we begin to think of ourselves as being more special in the eyes of God than we really are, thus puffing up our pride, diminishing our humility and making us less likely to grow in holiness.

CS Lewis argued that pride was a spiritual cancer. He wrote that “the utmost evil is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison.”

Offering prayers of thanksgiving when prayers are not answered can be very good for our soul because it helps us trust in God more. Developing the reflex of thanking God is perhaps one of the most difficult habits to form, especially in times of desolation, when suffering makes us reluctant to do so. But even if we thank God with difficulty, we are still thanking Him.

Prayer in any form is the raising of the mind and heart to God. But specifically, the prayers of blessing and adoration, prayers of intercession and prayers of praise are essential for developing humility because they help us know our place and prevent us from getting ahead of ourselves.