My friend, a Spiritual Director in the discipline of St. Ignatius, said something recently that set me aback to ponder, “If in prayer you truly want God’s will, you have to detach yourself from the outcome.” I’m still processing that—and have had glimmers of understanding I’d like to share with you. After all, surely I’m not the only one who prays according to the longings of my heart. Oftentimes, my ‘favorite’ prayers begin with something to the effect of, “Oh Jesus, if you EVER loved me, please (fill in the blank with whatever it is I’m asking Him for) .” Recognizing that if what I want is not His best, I’d be better off if His answer was, “No,” yet still desiring what I want to be His will.
The Book of Hebrews (4:16) urges us to approach the throne of Our Heavenly Father with boldness to find mercy and grace for the help we need. So we know that our desires are of interest to Our Father – and He sometimes gives us what we want despite whether it’s His best for us. That said, then what does it mean, “Detach yourself from the outcome?” To begin my study, I had to understand the ‘attachment’ I have to the outcome of my prayers.
Prayers with strings attached
I believe in praying faith-filled prayers. In Mark 11:23-24 Jesus said that if we pray in faith, believing that we receive what we ask for, Our Father in Heaven will give it to us. So I readily admit to being personally invested in the outcome! If you ask me to pray for your healing, I believe that when I do so, God will heal you – and I want regular updates to know how ‘my prayers’ are performing in your return to health. OK, I’ll admit: sometimes my prayers sound more like a list of demands than they do humbly brought petitions.
Fluid prayers without rigidity
St. Paul, in the Book of 1 Thessalonians (5:16-18) instructs us to rejoice in every situation and to pray all the time – he goes so far as to say, “…this is God’s Will…” Is that even possible? What would that look like? I’ve come to believe this kind of rejoicing and continual prayer can be practiced through the Ignatius Spiritual Exercises through which the aim is to, “conquer oneself and to regulate one’s life in such a way that no decision is made under the influence of any inordinate attachment.”
Trust in the process
There are many kinds of prayer found in Sacred Scripture: (prayers of) thanksgiving, petition, intercession – to name just a few; and there seems to be a formula: “Ask + Believe = Receive.” I think what I’m learning in the Ignatius way is that our approach to God in prayer is unfettered; He longs to hear from us in any way we approach Him—and in the same way, we need to be unfettered from expecting His answer to come in a package that meets our specifications. We need to learn to pray as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane: This is what I want, but nevertheless, even if I must suffer, let Your will be done.
Prayers in open hands
So. I’m learning to sit with my prayers in open hands; allowing my petitions to perch on the palms; not grasping them tightly, demanding or expecting a specific result. I’m finding the more I do that, the more miraculous God’s intervention in the things that concern me—and the outcome He wills is far more astounding than what I’ve dreamed or imagined.