My little experiment has failed. I challenged myself to stop asking so much of life and to only be ready to say “Yes” when asked any reasonable thing from another, thinking this might lead me to some better places in life. Only the requests were not there and I was left with nothing to say “Yes” to.
In Luke 11: 5-8 we hear a message about persistence. This reading is the story of a man who knocked on the door of a friend asking for bread as he had a guest staying with him and needed the food. The man’s friend told him to go away, but after some persistence, he came away with food. To the modern ear, it is a story about nuisance and there is a little of that there, but it is also something else. It is the message that answers do not come from passivity, but in the pleading, lamenting, angry, or even irritating asking of the believer.
For the believer the persistence happens in two ways. In one way it happens in prayer during those times we must be insistent of God, who often has reasons for us not to see any easy answers and to inculcate that strength of belief that can only come from a reflection on God’s “absence.” The other type of persistence happens in our relations with others, where our pleading and asking can truly change the mind and heart of a fellow person, though the process may indeed be very arduous. This is most often the case with anyone who does evangelism.
For me my greatest joys and challenges as well as the opening of my heart and mind would never have occurred if my prayers were sparse and the pleading of others had not been there. And it has also been to my detriment I have given up on many a good and beautiful thing because I have failed to pray or ask something of another.
The lack of persistence and the lack of expectation that we hold before God and others is nothing but detrimental. There is a saying that when one door closes another is open and that is true sometimes, but sometimes the thing you need to work for is behind a closed door. There is also a saying that says because a door is closed does not mean it is locked, but sometimes what you need is behind the locked door that is locked as was the case with the man in Luke’s gospel.
Such examples point us to the discernment that is involved in our lives of prayer and the relations we hold out to others. Sometimes what we need is the apparent grace and joy of an open door. Very often, however it is not. Sometimes we need the closed door that gives us the practice of insistence and requires us to take the time and space to figure things out. Occasionally we even need the locked door to tell us the impossible may very well be possible.
Each instance has its place. For many new believers, what is needed is the open door of seeing wondrous things. As one matures in the life of grace, the wondrous can often become hidden and it is up to us to go out there and let it find us and we can only do this in our ardent prayers and our persistence. Some of what we ask may have answers we do not want to hear or as is often the case with the seemingly impossible, answers so beautiful that our asking is never to be had, because we cannot believe that such beautiful things can exist and are therefore not worth our persistence.
How sad this is! Had the leaders of such things as civil rights and gender equality believed there could never be justice, would they had bothered with prayers said from jails and at rallies? If the chance of healing could never be had, would there ever be the long night of prayers for the sick in hospital rooms and next to bedsides that have produced miracles? How many marriages would never have occurred and how many children not born if we did not pray for the courage to love? And how many would not have wrapped their arms around another as a fierce protector and how many would fail to be held by another in their frail vulnerability if not for the persistence of praying to be there for another?
My little experiment failed. I had neglected the persistence to ask. We all do, but pray we do not do the thing for too long, for answers only come with asking. They may be devastating or wondrous, but one thing is sure….if we do not ask, there may well be no answers at all. Do not be timid and afraid to ask. Look for the open door and knock on the one that is closed and bang loudly on the one that is locked. And in all things be prayerful.
Image: Prayer Votives, Creative Commons license by Andrew Langdahl