Every single person I know—myself included—is currently saying a novena to the Holy Spirit in joyful anticipation of Pentecost Sunday. Catholics understand the ways in which particular days have a unique significance and use those times most effectively through novenas.
According to NewAdvent.org, a novena is nine days of prayer (coming from the word novem which means “nine”) and is a devotion to obtain special graces.
It is right and valuable to pray for our own needs and the desires of our heart. (Matthew 21:22)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church indicates that there are many ways to engage in prayer. The Catechism identifies the basic forms of prayer as blessing, petition, intercession, thanksgiving and praise.
A well-crafted novena tends to incorporate a number of these basic forms of prayer because it usually includes thanksgiving, some sort of blessing and certainly a request for intercession. All prayers should consist of praise of the Almighty God and every novena I’ve ever uttered certainly extols worship and praise to God.
The final piece of a novena should also contain an understanding that above all else, it is God’s will that we seek and welcome. And though we might utter those words, they aren’t always the words we place the greatest emphasis on as our real hope is usually in obtaining that for which we ask.
The funny thing about seeking God’s will—even when timidly requested—is that we often experience it in ways unimagined. And how about the times when what we are praying for is in direct opposition of another person’s prayers?
Most people who have watched the film Evan Almighty tend to say that what really sticks with them is what Morgan Freeman (playing God) says to Lauren Graham (playing a mother who has just prayed for a closer-knit family).
I’m paraphrasing the exchange in which Lauren does not know that Morgan is “God” but thinks he is a waiter offering wisdom:
When someone prays for patience do you think God just fills them with patience or does he give them opportunities to learn and practice patience? When someone prays for closer family relationship, do you think God fills them with warm and fuzzy feelings for each other or does he give them chances to grow closer?
Then there is the time during Bruce Almighty, the film that preceded Evan Almighty, in which everyone prayed to win the lottery. Of course each person’s expectation is that he alone will be the winner and much to everyone’s surprise all win—to the tune of a meager $17 each!
The point is: God always take our prayers and answers them in ways that we grow in our faith and have the potential to become better for him. He refines us and it is always in our best interest to understand and embrace those opportunities in which he puts us through the fire because in the end it is his love that orchestrates all.
Sometimes this means that prayer requests collide with one another or with our own expectations of results, which can be far different than what actually happens.
This is the dilemma faced by the siblings in Patti Maguire Armstrong’s wonderful fiction book for kids called Dear God, I don’t get it!
Father has lost his job and one sibling prays for father to get a new job that will allow the family to stay in the same house, city and state; meanwhile, another sibling is praying that God will use the job loss as a chance to move on to new and exciting things for the family—a new home, city and state.
All sorts of antics ensue as the family is uprooted and the oldest sibling finds the new surroundings to be less than ideal. What both kids and parents witness in this delightful book is how God’s answers—regardless of how different they are than what we may have had in mind—are always the best answers.
The only catch?
This can only be said if, and only if, we see how they are meant for our good. In that way we are “in charge” of our own destiny—how we respond to things is totally and completely up to us.
How the Graham character—in Evan Almighty—responded to the opportunity to develop family bonds while her husband was ridiculed was completely up to her.
As Pentecost Sunday quickly approaches, and my own novena is coming to an end, it occurs to me that my own prayers may very well be answered in ways unimagined. Or, maybe my prayers have collided with another’s in such a way that only one of us gets a “yes” while the other gets a “no.”
Ultimately, it will be up to each of us to understand that God answers prayers in ways that are meant for our good—and what we do with those answers is entirely up to each of us.