Sometimes I treat God like He’s a vending machine. I drop in novenas and Hail Marys like quarters, punching in “A2” or “B4” to select what I want from the spinning metal springs. When nothing drops down into the pickup slot, I pound on the glass and shake the machine.
“Where’s my Reeses? I put in 4 quarters! Where is my new job? I put in two novenas and offered up all my Masses for the past 6 months!”
This past year, I found myself in a very transactional relationship with God. The thought process being, “If I say X amount of rosaries, pray really hard, and put all my trust in God, I’ll get what I want, right? That how it works, ‘Ask and you shall receive,’ isn’t it?”
I remember hearing a homily where the priest said, “Ask God. He wants to know what burdens your heart.” This fueled my rapid fire of prayers that asked — no, begged — for a very specific job I had applied to. A job I wanted so badly my chest would tighten just at the thought of it. When my application was met with silence for four weeks and I couldn’t blame it on the summer holiday weekend anymore, I experienced the mother of all meltdowns.
My mom softly suggested one afternoon that I come to adoration with her. I said, “Okay, but I’m mad at God.” So I sat there stewing as I stared down the monstrance holding the Eucharist for adoration, a complete helter-skelter of thoughts within me as I carried on a very angry, one-sided conversation with God. The main question that bubbled up in the rolling boil of emotions was “Why?” over and over again.
“I’m a good person,” I reasoned. “I’ve prayed so much. Why don’t you want this for me? Do my prayers even matter if you’re just going to do what you think is best anyway?” I told God I was done praying to Him. And just like that, after more than 20 years of praying, I decided I was done sending up those heavy hopes. It hurt too much to hope, hurt too much to pray.
I sat in the car after adoration feeling as though I had just gotten into a huge fight with a loved one. I guess I had, but it was just me fighting. I felt so betrayed that after months of intentional prayer, trust, and constant conversation with God, He’d be so silent to my pain and fear. My entire perspective of God was flipped on its head because I couldn’t understand why He’d will so much nothing for me. My efforts at finding employment were constantly met with closed doors and I couldn’t see the reason for it.
So I decided everything in life was random. That nothing happened for a reason. That while God is there, He just watches passively.
Then, the day after I decided to be an 18th-century deist, I got a job offer.
Instead of feeling triumphant for finally getting what I wanted, I felt sheepish. In response to my temper tantrum, I could almost hear God saying, “Good grief, here! Chill out!” And I know, I know — God doesn’t get annoyed like that, but I felt I deserved to be annoyed with.
When I took a stepp back and looked at my relationship with God and who He was to me, I realized I mostly went to Him when the going got tough and I needed something. My conversation with Him consisted mostly of, “I want — I need — please?” I thought about the term “relationship” and what my day-to-day relationships looked like. I then imagined treating one of my friends or family the way I treated God, and yikes, I quickly realized I’d have no one to hang out with.
I pictured constantly barraging my best friends with demands to make my dreams come true and when they didn’t deliver, telling them I didn’t want to talk to them anymore. My relationship with Christ — who came to earth and hung from a cross and died for my sins — was nothing more than how I’d approach a vending machine.
Despite all this, I learned that God never abandons us — even when we project grossly unfair expectations upon Him.
I also learned that some of the things we value and think are the best for us aren’t, actually. Being human, we have such a narrow perspective on what we think is best, and a lot of the time, we’re wrong. I realized that my worldly value system and earthly standards might not reflect God’s value system of what really matters. And while of course getting a new job is important for many practical reasons, I think growing in our interior life is even more important.
The older I get, the more I learn that the most significant growth comes from suffering. Personal growth begins when we address the deep-rooted pain and error in our lives, and I believe God desires our growth and allows an opportunity for that kind of transformation. To us, sometimes that’s ugly and unpleasant — but it’s often what it takes to heal wounds.
As I grappled with understanding the reason for my unemployment, I think I was wrestling with the problem of evil the whole time. It boils down to the question that’s been asked for ages: “Why would a God, who is all good, allow bad things to happen?”
I could go into a whole discourse on free will, but I’m no C.S. Lewis. The way I’ve made sense of my own suffering is this: God’s greatest creation is that good can come from evil — that even in the face of immense pain, we are always given the ability to grow from it if we choose it. Because of this, suffering is not a bad thing — it’s actually necessary for our own good.
I learned that depending upon God during our suffering is how we experience growth and a closeness with Him that is far greater than the satisfaction of any earthly achievement. It’s not asking, “God, give me what I want and make this suffering stop,” but “God, walk with me through this suffering when I don’t get what I want.” It’s knowing that even when you have nothing, He never leaves your side.
So needless to say, changing my prayer life hasn’t been easy. It’s going to take time switching the vending machine mentality. I let my hopes and dreams be known, but He knows all of our hearts. So while I still pray and work for the things I want, I relinquish the false idea that getting what I want will bring me total happiness. And I’m letting go of the belief that silence is a reflection of God’s distance. Instead, I try and see all the ways God is trying to reach me every day.
When I reflect on everything I learned because of the suffering I experienced this year, I wouldn’t take any of it back. I look to the future, knowing I won’t get all the things I want, but also certain He has much more to offer than I could ever ask for.