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Dear Fr. Joe: Why do some prayers get answered in the way the person wants them to, and others don’t?

That is a great question; it’s going to take a “process” to answer it, so please stick with me as we get there.
    First of all, we have to recognize that our faith in God is supposed to be a result of a relationship. Through our daily prayers and contact with God, we come to understand that our loving, all-powerful God wants what is best for us. The words of the prophet Jeremiah become our lived experience, “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, plans for your welfare, not your woe. Plans for a future full of hope.”

    Just as our experiences with people can lead us to trust them, so our lived and growing experience with God can lead us to trust him.
    As we grow in our relationship, we naturally grow in trust. One of the most important things we can learn about God is that there are some things God cannot do. Yes, you read right: There are things that God cannot do. One of them is that God cannot remove from us the “aftershocks” of sin. When we choose to sin, we must embrace the consequences. We can pray for God to walk with us through the difficulties and he will, but God cannot or will not remove the consequences of our bad choices. Now, this is not to say that all bad things that happen to us are our fault – that would be ludicrous.
   So, what happens when we pray? When we pray, our souls are entering the presence of God and basking in his divine presence. As we stand in the light of God’s glory, we are transformed and changed, even when we don’t feel anything happening. It’s like riding an exercise bike; it’s not like we are getting anywhere geographically, but we do it because we know there are things going on inside us that we cannot see. Our hearts and bodies are growing stronger; muscles are tearing and rebuilding, the heart’s capacity to handle stress is increasing, our lungs are growing stronger, etc. All these things are happening, even though we don’t feel it. Prayer works the same way. When we pray for a specific situation, we are being changed – our souls are being strengthened to handle the coming grief or our capacity for joy is being increased.
    As we approach the wrap-up to this question, the element of mystery needs to be addressed. Whenever we talk about God, we are almost always giving our “best guess.” God is not us. The Scriptures put it this way, “For my ways are not your ways, says the Lord.” Think of it this way – the way you and I experience life is limited by two things. First, we are only able to understand our lives in the context of our life and experience. We don’t know how different actions and inactions on our part affect people all around us.
    Second, we are limited by how we view time. We see our lives like a scroll unfolding; God sees the whole of our lives, from beginning to end, in an eternal “now.” With these ideas in our hearts and minds, we can see there are certain elements of our lives that we will not understand until we see God face to face. I remember working with a family whose mother was very sick. In my discussions with her, I discovered that her greatest pain in life was not her sickness, but the fact that her children did not celebrate their faith. They didn’t go to church or teach their children the importance of faith. During her sickness, her kids prayed daily for her recovery, but in the end, she succumbed to her illness and died. I worked with the family as they struggled with the pain of loss, and over the course of the next year, they rediscovered their faith and began to come to Mass and bring their children. God did not answer their prayers, but he sure answered the prayers of the mother. I have heard this referred to as A Severe Mercy, and I recommend the book by that title to all readers. Its author is Sheldon Vanauken.
   In the end, we see that our prayers are a loving dialogue between God and us. He listens in love and, if we respond with an open heart, we may hear him speaking to us in the silence.

– Fr. Joseph Krupp