“And I tell you, ASK AND YOU WILL RECEIVE; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” [Luke 11:9-10]
You might find yourself wondering, “What good does asking do anyway?” You may even feel that nothing changes when you do ask, so there’s really no point in asking. You might be tired of people sending out ‘thoughts and prayers,’ feeling it’s a pointless method for change. I’ve heard a whole lot of that lately. It is so darn easy to highlight the bad and forget about the good. Sometimes it’s even difficult to connect a clear line from the prayer to the answer. Why are we so quick to forget about the multitude of prayers that have been answered, and at the same time with a white-knuckle grip and a heart unwilling to change we hold tight to the prayers that seem to go continually unanswered? Sometimes we figure it’s more convenient to allow anger and frustration to grow inside of us instead of unclenching our fists and opening our heart to align with the Lord’s plans for our lives.
Well, let me tell you a little story about asking…
Three years ago I was getting frustrated with God’s plans, particularly with the lack of fulfillment of years and years of prayers for what my heart longed for… marriage. Through discernment and prayer I felt very called to marriage, yet open to God’s plans for me. I was single as could be with a heart FULL of desire for marriage, and a building consternation and pain as to why exactly God was not fulfilling that part of my life.
In prayer one day God brought me to the Scripture, “Ask and you shall receive.” Then He showed it to me again and again and again. “Ok, I get it,” I thought. “You want me to ask You for what it is that I want.”
So that’s how I began the year 2016. I decided to own the Scripture of “Ask and you shall receive” more than ever before. I got very real with myself and very real with God, and then I decided to get very specific and vulnerable in my asking. I said to the Lord, “I want to meet my husband, and I want to meet him by the end of this year.” I prayed that my future husband would have the courage to pursue me and that I would have an openness to allow him into my life and heart. I wrote to God, “I want and expect that once in a lifetime kind of love with no doubts, no reservations – just absolute clarity that he is the one you’ve chosen for me. Love, Lord, give me love.”
I know, sounds demanding, right? Let me explain. I got specific in my asking because it seemed there was always a lingering fear that polluted my desires. The fear was telling me, “Don’t ask for it. What if you never get it? You will look like a fool.” The asking was a very important part of this process for me for that very reason.
Asking is a form of belief, and that belief is a form of trust in God our Father, and I think that is what God really wants when He tells us to ask. He wants us to trust Him wholeheartedly with every piece of our lives, especially the parts that are most important to us.
It was necessary for me to go through the process of mindfully asking in order to overcome the lies I was allowing to live inside of me. I had to vulnerably spell out the desires of my heart in detail without reservation and without creating an escape route for myself. I put a timeframe on it, not because God works under our timeframe, but because a timeframe meant that I was going to have to work hard on my interior in order to get to a place to really come to trust in the Lord, to let go of my desire to control this aspect of my life and to put it entirely into His hands, no matter the outcome. It also meant I had to face the fear of possibly being wrong, and of possibly not meeting my spouse. The process of mindfully asking forced me to drive directly into that fear rather than shielding myself from it’s unknown potential. I had to work hard to suffocate the lies that were telling me that marriage wasn’t for me, that I wasn’t worthy of it, that I wasn’t fit to be a wife and a mother.
That year, month after month went by. I went on a few dates, had some conversation here and there, but nothing lasting materialized, nothing with lifelong potential. At the start of the twelfth month of the year, my hope really dimmed to the reality that I only had one month remaining from the time I had vulnerably prayed for my spouse, as I felt the Lord was asking me to do.
The first week of December led me to a three-day silent retreat where I figured I’d have plenty of time to work it out with God, because let me tell you, silent retreats are crazy fruitful in that way. I know, I know – so many people tend to think the idea of a silent retreat is crazy or even impossible, but each one I have attended has been nothing short of a total gift for my life.
This particular retreat was silent-directed so there was one hour of spiritual direction each day with a trained spiritual director at the retreat. I already knew and trusted the director I was matched with and through direction on the first full day, we talked through where I was at with discernment of vocation (as expected). I explained to her my desire and discernment for marriage. Somewhere in the course of conversation the dating site, Catholic Match, came up and I was irritated at the suggestion from the moment it was voiced. Mostly I was bothered because it always felt like people (who happened to be the furthest thing from single) would throw out suggestions of how to take your singleness away, and it was frustrating because it wasn’t as if I was living like a recluse, opposed to dating, and willfully keeping myself from meeting the man I hoped to marry. I was constantly meeting people through sports, through work, through church, through other friends. Meeting people wasn’t the problem, meeting the right person was. I had done some online dating and had perused Catholic Match several years back, but had eventually decided not to sign up because it appeared to me as though I already knew the majority of the people in the Nashville area on the site at that time.
So how did I react? Um, not very gracefully. I began to overheat internally at the sheer suggestion, thinking, “Here we go again…”
After direction I went back to my room and shouted at God a bit, asking Him why He even brought me to retreat, I pouted, then I went to blow off steam the best way I know how, I went for a jog through the woods. About a half mile into my jog I began to shift my way of thinking. I wondered, “What’s going on inside of me? Why is that such a hot button for me? Why am I so opposed to the idea of Catholic Match?” I came to realize that pride had gotten the best of me. I pushed forward and duked it out with my pride (as well as a rather embarrassing desire to wallow in self-pity for a bit). Finally I acquiesced and cried out to God, “FINE! I’ll do it if you want me to! I’ll sign up for the stupid dating site if you want me to, but you’re going to have to show me while I’m at this retreat that that is what you want me to do.” I wasn’t graceful at all, in fact I was acting quite childish, but I had conceded, and that set the tone for my retreat. The process of letting go of my fears and my pride in that area of my life and giving it all over to God, entrusting it to Him entirely, had intensified.
Throughout the course of the retreat, I received a lot of healing and restoration in regard to vocation. I found I really needed to work on retraining my thoughts. Negative thoughts were affecting the way I was choosing to live and what I was choosing to believe about myself. My director pointed me to Habakkuk 2:2-3 and encouraged me to write out ‘the vision,’ as the Scripture states, except this would be my vision for my future.
Then the Lord answered me and said: write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily. For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late. [Habakkuk 2:2-3]
And so I did, I wrote out my vision. I didn’t overthink it I just wrote what poured out from my heart.
“My vision, Lord, is to be wed to a Godly, loving, strong, compassionate, affectionate, self-less man. My vision is that we will have a beautiful little home on a ranch with horses and plenty of land, but not too much to manage. My vision is that our love, our bond through the Sacrament of marriage, with your help will be unshakeable, made on a strong and firm foundation with You as our center. Nothing will break it. Our love will be ours, strong and loving and selfless both ways. We will be open to one another and keep the lines of communication open. We will glorify you in our home and fill it with children. We will raise them with your aide and teach them and nurture them. We will always gently guide them to You – they will be Yours. We will grow old together, through good times and bad. We will always invite and welcome the Holy Spirit to dwell in our home. It will be filled with authentic life and authentic love. The rest is just details. Lord will you allow me to honor you in this way?”
Every day for the next six weeks, I would read my vision in the morning and at night. It has been said to take six weeks to retrain your thoughts, and I wanted my vision stamped into my thoughts. I accompanied this vision with a reflection I wrote while at retreat based on Isaiah 49:16, “See upon the palms of my hands I have written your name.” The Lord revealed to me that my name was indeed on the palm of His hand, and not just my family name, but my future last name as well. I was working on speaking Truth back into my mind and heart, and God had very clearly brought me to retreat to start that process.
He reiterated the importance of timing, His timing. Remember that line from Habakkuk about the vision? He says, “Wait for it. It will surely come. It will not be late.”
God also showed me that He wanted me to claim my vocation. He said, “How can I give it to you if you won’t fully receive it from me?” I absolutely had not claimed my vocation and I realized I was downright afraid to do so. What do I mean by that? You know how little girls often dream about getting married and talk about it and plan out all the details far in advance of ever getting married because they are just certain they will one day get married? Well, not me. That wasn’t me at all. I was on the other end of the spectrum, falsely believing that I hadn’t pleased God well enough in my life so maybe He would never allow that for me, maybe I wouldn’t ever be getting married.
By the time I had left the retreat I had worked through some pride that was getting in my way, I had received a lot of healing, I had begun to claim my vocation for marriage, I was working on retraining my thoughts, I had written down my vision, and I had resolved to sign up for Catholic Match. All things that God led me to.
I knew if I were to allow myself to delay signing up for the dating site, then I would probably be less likely to follow through and I had told God I would do it, so the night I got home from retreat I made a profile. I didn’t really try to put my ‘best foot forward’ to make myself seem like a great catch, instead I was just totally and completely authentically me. “You can take it or leave it,” I figured. “This is me.”
Less than a month later, a conversation on Catholic Match with the man that would become my husband began. The date was December 27th, just 4 days before the end of 2016, the year I had asked the Lord for me to meet my spouse. I had asked. I had placed the matter in the hands of the Lord at the expense of my own pride, and then I claimed the outcome that I desired, the one I felt the Lord was leading me to all along, and I watched the vision begin to unfold. Not only did I watch it, but I was actually living it out.
“Ask and you shall receive,” the Lord says.
I think God tells us to ask so that we will be changed in the process of the asking, not because He doesn’t already know the desires of our heart. The key to asking is in growing our hearts and our trust in the Lord. My pride and fear was getting in my way. Had I never made myself vulnerable and open enough to ask God for the desires of my heart (and I mean really ask Him) I may never have been open to the means by which God was choosing to use to bring me to my spouse.
Ask, with an open heart willing to change, and then let the Lord do His work in your life. Ask and you will receive.
“God would not encourage you to pray if he were not willing to give.” Saint Augustine