Home > Meditations > Ask, and you will receive … but what?

A meditation by one of the novices on the readings for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C).

It sounds so wonderful. Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you’. Prayer like a wand in a Harry Potter story. Heavenly Father, can I have a new car, a ton of money and a handsome girl- or boyfriend? Or better yet, could you please end all wars, turn back the clock on global climate change and stop polar bears and all those other endangered species from becoming extinct? I guess we all know from experience that it doesn’t always work out that way. Life is messy and we do not always get what we want.

But then again, Ask and you will receive doesn’t promise that you will receive exactly what you ask. Seek and you will find doesn’t promise you that you will find what you seek. Knock and the door will be opened to you doesn’t tell you what is on the other side of the door. Little did I know that I would one day be a novice about to make his first vows when I first entered a Dominican church five year ago. I was searching, that’s for sure, but definitely not for a life in a habit. And yet, here I am.

So Jesus isn’t promising us that our Heavenly Father will give us exactly what we ask. He is however encouraging us to ask, to seek and to knock. We are so to say encourage to pray. And I think that prayer is exactly what fills the gap between all we wish for and all we’ve seen. It is prayer that is there for us when our expectations aren’t met. When the people we love die, when we lose our job or friendships and other relationships fall apart. It is then, just at the moment when we do not receive what we ask, when we do not find what we seek, and when what’s behind that door isn’t what we expected when we knocked, that we have to continue asking, seeking and knocking. Just as Abraham didn’t stop haggling with God to save the just souls in Sodom, so too must we not stop to petition God. Even when times are rough. We should not be afraid to say with Abraham See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord. Later on it says But Abraham persisted. And in the Gospel in the story of the man asking his friend for bread, Jesus also says he will give him whatever he needs because of his persistence.

All very well, you could say, we have to persist and persevere. But what good is that when God is not going to give us what we ask, seek or knock for? I could of course give you the simple answer. God is good and he knows better what is good for you. If you don’t get what you want, you get what you need and be content with that. But I don’t think it’s as simple as that. I think Jesus wants us to keep praying, to keep asking, seeking and knocking because prayer shapes us, transforms us. The Czech priest and writer Thomas Halik compares prayer with beating on an anvil. When we pray we are like the smith who beats on the hot piece of iron. The anvil is God, who gives a second blow of the iron. In that way, the iron is shaped. And according to Halik, in that way God transforms us in and through prayer. It that way prayer purifies our desires, our needs and our hopes. In that way prayer helps us to know better what it God wants us to seek and on which door God wants us to knock. And in that way through prayer God will help us to cope with the situations when the people we love die, when we lose our job or when friendships and other relationships fall apart. And with ‘ to cope with’ I don’t mean coping in a strictly passive way. In a just sticking it out until the storm stops kind of way. But in a way that gives us to knowledge and courage to act wisely in all those challenges life gives us. To know to give a fish instead of a snake.