Advent has begun. If there are little ones (and not so little ones) in your household, they have begun making a list of items they want Santa to bring.
As a child, I always had difficulty listing items for Santa. I thought, “Do I really want it, or, is there something else that would be better?” I really could not make a strong decision. Most of the time, I’d say, “Santa, surprise me!” This would make my parents go into a spin. They would help me make a decision but it was truly a painful process! I compare my hesitancy to the actions of my brother. He immediately knew what he wanted, made the list and proudly gave it to our parents. He always had another problem: his list was a VERY long on. My parents had to work with him to minimize his volumes!
I am reminded of this as I continue my series on prayer. In 13 Powerful Ways to Pray, Father Eamon Tobin lists that the second type of prayer is the Prayer of Petition. He describes this type of prayer in this manner: “There are some gifts we give to others without their asking. Other gifts we give only when we are asked. In waiting to act in response to our prayers or until we petition Him, God is allowing us to participate in our own salvation and the salvation of others. Also, the purpose of petitionary prayer is to not inform God of our needs but rather to inform ourselves. Petitionary prayer deepens our awareness of how much we need God at every moment of our lives.” 1
Did you catch the importance in that quote? We need God at every moment of our lives. This need is expressed in our complete dependence on God within this type of prayer. It is also rooted in Scripture: “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’” (Luke 11:9-13)
In order to truly pray this type of prayer, rather than “making a list and checking it twice,” we need to be aware of two things, according to Father Tobin. The first is that God is interested in our need. He wants us to express our need. He desires us to deepen our trust in Him that our need will be fulfilled in the way He knows is best for us.
I remember one year as Christmas was approaching, my mom sat down with my brother and I and told us that because my dad was unemployed, Christmas was going to be a bit different. Our presents would be our presence with each other. My mom challenged us to do something for each member of the family during the season of Advent and that would be our present to each other.
You see, God understands our need but also knows how to answer the secret desires of our heart. Our ability to trust in Him has to be ever strengthened and renewed. He does answer our prayers! Maybe not in a way in which we want or understand, but He does answer them. All we need is trust!
The second thing Father Tobin says we need to be aware of is that a closer relationship with God is our primary purpose of petitionary prayer. The purpose of any type of prayer is to deepen our relationship with God, to allow our heart to beat with the heart of God, to live within the Divine Will.
God is not Santa Claus, giving us every wish that is on our list. God truly knows what is best for us and what can bring us to our salvation, even if that means suffering. All we need is trust.
In summary, Father Tobin describes this type of prayer in this manner, “It is interesting to note that our requests in prayer can reveal much about our image of God and self and our relationship with God. For example, if we don’t dare pray for the seemingly impossible things in life, it is because we think God can’t handle such a request? If we rarely make small requests such as ‘Lord, help me to find a parking space,’ is it because we have an image of God that causes us to think God would be too busy to have an interest in our parking problem? If we rarely pray for ourselves because we think it is selfish, does this outlook reveal a poor self-image? Do we think we don’t deserve God’s attention? If our prayer is primarily dominated by petitionary prayer, what might this say about our relationship with God? If we throw temper tantrums when God doesn’t respond to our prayer exactly as we asked, what does this reveal about us and how we relate to God?”2
So, as you write your list for Santa Claus, write a list for God that expresses the desire of your heart in relationship to Him, family, neighbor, self, work and the larger world!
1Tobin, Eamon. 13 Powerful Ways to Pray. Beacon Publishing, 2016. Pg. 79.
2Ibid, pg. 86-87.
By Sister Geralyn Schmidt, The Catholic Witness