A couple weekends ago I found myself on a bus with 40 teenagers returning from a retreat. Buzzed on a steady diet of Mountain Dew and Twizzlers, they tuned in to the final game of the World Cup as we pulled onto the interstate.
Germany versus Argentina was a great distraction for the energetic teens who had been bouncing off the walls in the back of the bus. While they huddled around their phones, we were treated to the emotional highs and lows they experienced as they watched. Brows furrowed, they squinted to see the screens, letting out an, "OOOOH!" or "GOOOOO" that gave us a play by play of the game and all the accompanying feelings.
When Germany finally clinched it, about half the bus was elated. Hollering and high-fiving, one teen exclaimed, "It's a miracle! GOD HEARD MY PRAYERS!"
I know the feeling -- of wanting something to happen (or not happen) so badly, and the euphoria that comes when it all goes according to plan. Win 10 bucks on a scratch-off lottery ticket or find a good parking space at Walmart, and it can feel like discovering a hotline to heaven.
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We can assume, when we experience the victory my young German fans did, that our prayers have been answered. Then, when things don't go the way we want, we wonder what went wrong and if we didn't pray hard enough. While I was glad the kiddos had spent the afternoon in such fervent prayer, I'm looking forward to their spiritual maturing as they continue to spend time talking to God.
When I say "spiritual maturity," I don't mean age, although it is a similar parallel. As a child, I remember thinking my parents loved me when they gave me chocolate cake, but doubting that love when Brussels sprouts were on the menu. When my siblings and I asked for ice cream and received it, we were delighted. When we asked for ice cream and were told, "not now," we were disappointed. We'd threaten to call Grandmother -- the one who really loved us and wouldn't make us finish our dinner before we had dessert.
As an adult, I now know that Brussels sprouts are good for me and ice cream before dinner isn't (although I dare you to stop me). I know now that at each meal, my parents were serving me what I needed -- not what I wanted. Sometimes what I was asking for simply wasn't good for me, even though from my limited vantage point it seemed like a great idea.
In the same way, as I've spent more time praying over the years, I've learned that sometimes answers seem immediate and favorable -- like a World Cup victory -- while some requests seem to go unheeded. However, God -- like my parents -- gives me what I need, not what I want. As I've learned this over time, my prayer has shifted from "pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease give me what I want" to simply sitting with God and asking him to help me find peace and patience with his will.
This isn't easy. Victory feels good, and it's more fun to have life go exactly as I want it to, all the time. I still have questions about why it seems that some prayers have gone unheard. But even though each day holds questions, I can look back over the years and see many moments when what I thought was an unheard prayer turned out to be exactly what I needed: part of a bigger picture that I just couldn't see at the time.
There are still questions. But the more time I spend in prayer, the more peace I find in waiting to see God's plan unfold.
Follow columnist Alison Griswold at twitter.com/alisongriz. Read her blog at www.teamcatholic.blogspot.com.