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Should We Pray For Our Own Desires or God’s Will?

A listener named Susan asks Father Dave a question about personal prayer. She wonders, “What’s better: praying for something specific, or praying for God’s will?”

Father Dave begins, “We often say that Catholicism is much more of a ‘both/and’ than ‘either/or [faith].’ So praying for something specific and praying for God’s will; let’s do both.” He offers an example of a couple he knows who is currently house hunting. “There’s nothing wrong with praying specifically for that [house]. Particularly in intercessory prayer, meaning anytime we ask God for something, we should at least be aware that we should desire God’s will for us whether we actually verbalize it or not.”

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“When we completely leave out the ‘God’s will’ piece, we can begin to look at prayer as if it was like an ATM machine, or a request line on the radio for my favorite song. Ideally, it should be more than that; it should be a relationship with God,” Father Dave continues. He reflects on times we ask for things from those close to us, such as a parent or spouse, and how we consider their desires in our requests.

He says, “Our relationship with God ideally should not be like, ‘if God deems it then he looks down and says yes, I will give you this thing.’ It is more of a ‘we’ thing, like when couples make a decision together. ‘If we’re going to buy a new car or send our child to this college; are we on the same page? Do we both really think that this will be best for our family?’ That’s more how we should be approaching prayer and asking God for things; do we both think this is the best?” Father Dave notes that God knows better for us than a spouse or close friend, but it can also be harder to interpret his will.

Father Dave points out that only praying for God’s will without our own specific intentions can be too generic. “It feels almost very distancing from God,” he says and likens it to someone at work being afraid to encounter the CEO. “God is way greater than you are, and so in some ways, it would be logical to have a greater separation. But God says, ‘Call me daddy; ask, seek and knock.’”

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He returns to the example of a married couple, and how impersonal it would be for one person to always get their way without knowing the other person’s opinion. “If every single time that other spouse just replied with ‘whatever you think, whatever you want’…after a while, wouldn’t you want something more than that? Wouldn’t you want to know what’s going on in their head in their heart? Wouldn’t you rather collaborate as a team and come to a decision?”

“God wants to hear what the specific thing is. God wants to hear about the apartment that you really love, and maybe God’s will is something else, but he still does want to hear from you because that’s coming from your heart and your passion,” Father Dave continues. “While God knows it in the same way that you as a parent may know what your child is going to ask for, the relationship is in the asking and in the interaction. Saying, ‘let’s think about that together.’ If we think about prayer as fundamentally and primarily about our relationship with God, the actual words mean less.”