Frustrations in Prayer


prayinghandsmanFr. Ronald Knox, an English Catholic of the early 20th century and convert, gave retreats and talks to lay people to help them deepen and improve their spiritual life. In his Spiritual Guidance for Christian Living: A Retreat for Lay People, he gathers two dozen talks and homilies written for lay people and the troubles they experience. One chapter deals with the rich young man from Mark 10:17-31.

Jesus and this young man meet during one of  Jesus’ many encounters with the Jewish people and their leaders. The young man desired to know how he may attain eternal life. Jesus responds first with holding to the Ten Commandments, which the young man has held to since boyhood. Then, Christ says, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; and, come follow me.” Instead of running off and doing as Christ commanded, the youth went away “sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”

Looking to Christ

We have it on record then. Christ looked someone temporally in the face and was rejected. He who has our best always in His heart was turned away when His answer was not what was desired. St. Mark tells us Jesus looked “upon him and loved him.” Other than St. John and Jesus’ friends at Bethany, no other individual is described as such in the Gospel.

Fr. Knox comments at length on this plight of Christ. Individuals who desire the good of those whom they are fondest plan and try for the best for them, only to be thwarted by bad luck, timing, or, simply, rejection. Granted, God cannot feel disappointment in the sense He was caught unaware by unforeseen events, but, He, in His great capacity, could feel the disappointment of a desired end never realized.

In our lives, we encounter disappointment and suffering in all manner of ways. Job loss or difficulties, family and relationships, financial issues, children, plans for the future, and more. These are hard enough to bear when we are the ones hurt by hard times, but the burden increases when the ones we love are hurt and we are at a loss to fix the problems. Even when the plans or issues are good, such as parents ‘helping’ a child decide on a major, or, more seriously, trying to help those we love get to Heaven. I feel the later most acutely when I learn of another friend leaving the Church.

Desiring the good of those we love is only natural. But, having good intentions does not necessarily translate to knowing what is the best path for ourselves or others. We must trust in God’s will and do our best to follow His plan rather than our own.

‘Forgotten’ Yet Forever Loved

During times of desolation, when we can no longer feel His presence in our prayer life or are suffering, we can think we have been left to fend for ourselves, possibly hardening our hearts. In his When God is Silent: Finding spiritual peace amid the storms of life, Archbishop Luis Martinez uses the fearful Apostles on stormy Lake Tiberias shouting for Jesus to awake and save them (Matt 8:23-27; Mk 4: 36-41; Lk 8:22-25) as an example of the reality of Christ’s love even when he appears asleep in the rear of the ship. How could Love itself abandon the beloved? His presence and love is merely veiled by sleep.

Remembrance of Christ’s love, even under terrible suffering, is extremely important. No matter our burdens, Christ is with us. When the sun shines and a gentle rains fall our soul soars with joy. We know Christ is near us as we bathe in His radiant love. But, when clouds form and winds blows hard we believe He has walked away. So, we run after Him to tell him of the tremors around us. As if He didn’t know or had ever left.

How quickly do we look for God to prove His presence in these times rather than trusting His love. Rather than letting Christ remain at rest with His eyes closed but heart wide open, we would claim abandonment, negligence. Our sufferings, spiritual and temporal, shroud our sight from what is in front of us. Do we still sit a peace before the Blessed Sacrament? Do we continue to pray even when we receive no immediate consolation? Do we patiently await His awakening to calm the storm?

Christ did not only demonstrate His love in miracles, parables, and mercy. He showed the greatness of His love through His passion, through suffering. God is omnipotent. He could have chosen any manner of redemption but He chose the cross for love of us. Do we contemplate how our sufferings may unite us to His passion? Do we offer our tears as gifts of love and trust? What I mean by this is are we more focused on ourselves, our own suffering, or on God. In other words, does our love of God and trust in Him go only as far as He tangibly gives.

Suffering and darkness purges and tempers the soul when we follow the light of faith. A guiding beacon in the darkness. Humility and charity grow when we are able to increasingly look outside ourselves in our sufferings, as hard as that may be.

When the Waters Rise Amid the Storm

So, what are we to do when we are lost or feel abandoned? Do we simply give up and wait until Christ ‘returns’? Walk away forever? No. If we love God, if we love others, we must not lose faith or give up hope. To love is to be compelled to action with hope in The Lord. Fr. Knox reminds of three things. First, Christ too knew suffering and disappointment. He too struggled for others and called to them and was not heeded. Christ too knew bodily suffering, the death of loved ones, and spiritual affliction. Try relating to His sadnesses in prayer.

Second, never stop praying. Don’t believe for a second prayer is pointless or produces nothing. Fr. Knox uses the brilliant example of St. Anthony who heard what Christ said to the young man and acted. Anthony went, sold all he had, and became a model of western monasticism. Somewhere your prayers and perseverance will have an impact. Prayer itself can become a sacrifice when we are suffering.

Lastly, for those of us who face sadness and frustration, don’t try to stop helping others simply because your efforts seemingly never bear fruit.

…follow your own instincts; some people will have a special interest for you, will make a special claim on your sympathies; don’t resist that attraction: it is all part of the nature God has given you, and therefore of the destiny God has arranged for you. But be prepared to make a mess of things; you probably will. Probably, as I say, the good you do will be something quite different, something you never intended–as likely as not something you will never hear about. But do what your hand finds to do; and then, when you are alone with God in your prayers, tell him that you want to be of use to those souls he means you to be of use to, those and not others. Tell him that you are ready to work for him blindfolded, and wait till the Day of Judgement before you ask what the result of your work was. –Fr. Ronald Knox

Peace in times of frustration and fear is what Christ offers for those who are open to His grace and will. Peace to men of good will. Do not confuse peace with solitude or a rejection of all the possible outliers of discomfort or even the absence of suffering. Christ’s peace resides in our hearts regardless of sufferings. We simply tend to forget.

Archbishop Martinez wrote that this peace must be sought unceasingly through three paths to peace. First, faith in God’s love and providence to the point it seems in excess of the possible. That we are lovingly “carried in Divine arms” from yesteryear to next. Our struggles with sinfulness and sufferings help to sanctify us for our journey’s end, Heaven (Rom 8:26-28).

Second,  hope in God’s promise of eternal happiness with Him, in the reality of the divine promise. “Suffering without hope is a bitter, insupportable burden.” Hope holds us close to the joy of Christ and reminds us Christ has given us what we need for salvation. We are called to respond accordingly.

Lastly, love, charity. 1 John 4: 18 “Perfect love casts out fear.” We may still worry and suffer but nothing (Rom 8: 38-39) can separate us from God’s love except our own choices. In short, faith, hope, and love will strengthen and sustain us in our troubling times.

When our prayers become difficult in suffering remember Archbishop Martinez’s words,

Lord, this instrument You are now using to sanctify me must be very precious since Your love sends it. Yes, I recognize it but it pains me. Allow me, then, to weep and to complain. And Jesus allows us to weep and to complain, but what He does not want is that we become disturbed; while we groan and weep, He would have us preserve peace in our heart.


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