There is an old story told – I doubt it is a true story – about a woman who lost the key to her cottage door. She was very concerned and upset because she had to wedge the door shut with a chair to make her feel safe at night. As a devout Catholic she had a statue of St Anthony and she decided to pray to St Anthony that he might find her key.
NB there is an old tradition of praying to St Anthony for finding things that have been lost. I think this arose because St Anthony, a Franciscan priest in the thirteenth century, had lost a precious book – it actually had been stolen – and through his prayers it was eventually returned to him.
So she prayed, and she prayed. A day went by, then another, and another, and still the key was not found. After a full week she got so annoyed with St Anthony that she grabbed his statue and threw it out into the field. But then she felt bad and had second thoughts. It wasn’t right to throw a holy statue away. After a while she decided to go and fetch the statue lying across in the field. She went over to retrieve the statue and – lo and behold – beside the statue in the grass was her missing key! She would never have found it otherwise. St Anthony had delivered after all.
A pious story of dubious origin, and therefore not a story worth bothering with? Best consigned to the waste bin of junk religious curiosities and anyway, we shouldn’t be praying to anyone but God Himself. Well yes, but…
I tell this story because I think there is a certain logic, a divine logic, to the story. Let me explain. When we pray and ask God (or pray to Him through His saints) for something, be it a missing key or even something much more important such as the health of a loved one or for peace in the world, we have to understand that God’s ways are not our ways. So often we ask but we really want the answer or the solution to be as we want and we expect it to be. And also to be granted in our own timescale. But often as not God has other ideas. And His ways are always best though we may often not appreciate that.
The woman in the story wanted to find her key. She wanted to find it and she wanted to find it straight away. Her logic. Her timescale. And perfectly understandable. The key mattered after all. St Anthony – but really God – led her to the key. But not in the way she expected.
A corny story, with a cheesy ending? I can’t disagree, and I’m afraid such stories are often given to the faithful as if they are Gospel truths. But, even in such corny tales there can be a morsel of truth. I think the story’s happy ending actually illustrates this profound truth that God’s ways are different to ours, and always have far better outcomes. For God sees with an eternal perspective. He knows what is best for us and everyone. We see only partially. God sees the totality.
I believe God always answers sincere prayer. As Scripture says:
“The prayer of the humble pierces the clouds.” Sirach 35: 21
The humble and sincere person may actually sense what really matters, and may therefore ask more appropriately.
In terms of asking God for something, the lessons may be: especially if we feel that God hasn’t answered our prayer:
~ is our prayer in keeping with His greater purpose?
~ what is God’s timescale for a resolution?
~ is He in fact wanting us to look further and elsewhere to see the answer?
If we only knew how much God loves us we would never doubt that He delights to hear and answer us.