When I was a kid I had the kind of naive, unquestioning faith and trust that having "faith like a child" really means. It really was more faith like a dog.... Every time I tell my dog, "Daddy's home!" or "There's a squirrel outside!" or "I'll be right back," or "It's okay," he believes me. No matter what. 100%. The trouble with that kind of faith, though, I reflect as I pat his sweet little head, is that sometimes I'm tricking him. Sometimes he lingers too long outside and won't even come in for turkey, his favorite treat. Only for "Daddy's home!" Sometimes it's time to go outside and he won't budge from the couch. That's when an invisible squirrel is on the loose, and one second later he's at the end of the yard barking up an empty tree. Yet despite how many times I lie to him he believes me. He trusts me completely.
I remember the feeling of being overwhelmed by my love for God, for Christ, for the Church. Inspired by my feelings of devotion and the example of saints and martyrs I was thoroughly committed to a glamorized idea of suffering. I wanted to be one of the lucky ones to be stricken with the stigmata. In fact I'd pray to receive it, along with many other useless prayers- for Snow White to come alive from my book, or for a particular boy to like me. (I wasn't all Jesus and piety.) After all, Christ said "Ask and you shall receive." And I trusted those words as my dog trusts me. I believed in Him and I believed in miracles with all my heart. And as a kid, being told that God always answers prayers even if the answer is "no" was enough for me to escape the unanswered with my joyful, loving heart intact.
But life is full of doubt and disappointment, isn't it? And faith inevitably takes a predictably different shape. I have not escaped my blows unscathed. When you pray so fervently, with such trust in the power of that prayer and the answer continues to be "no," you start to feel like there is no power in your prayers, and if they are powerless they are pointless as well. I see now that prayer doesn't always have the power to bend God's will. And if God's will is supreme, then what role does prayer play in the intersection of human existence and the supernatural? And if the answer is "no," what recourse do we have when desires persist?
I never understood the prayers that end with "Not my will but Yours be done, Oh Lord." While beautiful in their conviction, I find them to be quite unrealistic. Why should I pray for God's will to be done when ultimately it will transpire regardless? What if I don't want His will? What if I can't trust in Him? I want to. But if I'm being completely honest, I do not entirely. I'm no longer like my dog in that regard. I'm skeptical; I'm wounded; I'm scarred.
As a child in the midst of a blossoming spiritual relationship, and still in the infatuation stage, I often mistook my feelings for "God's will." If I felt strongly about something, it must be because God was guiding me toward a certain end, and I'm sure I made many childish decisions using "God's will" as justification. In truth, I have no idea what God's will could be- and so I am afraid to pray for it. I don't know if God's will is for me to never be a mother, to never fulfill my musical dreams, or to even live beyond tomorrow. And when I think of those possibilities, I find no comfort in the notion of "God's will." One thing I do know is God has called me to suffer, as we all must in some way. I thought I would be the kind of disciple who, with gratitude in my heart, would offer my suffering for the benefit of others and in doing so join in the suffering of Christ. But that was also a childish fantasy. I do offer up my suffering when I have the presence of mind, but there is no gratitude involved. More an attitude of "well it's here so I might as well not waste it." And then the thought crosses my mind that perhaps I have been gifted the stigmata after all. It is in a different form, and certainly not as glamorous as I envisioned. If only I could find the humility to bear it like a saint...