Having recently been divinely schooled on this very topic, I thought I might share the lesson I believe the Lord is trying to teach me. Perhaps some, less dense than myself, will pick up a valuable nugget for their own spiritual lives.
As with most petitionary prayers, it began with a need. For us, it was the sale of our home. The kids had all flown the nest and we were ready to downsize. It made sense to simplify, reduce our debt, and get closer to where we spend most of our time. God seemed to approve, and before I knew it, I received a call from a church friend about a wonderful house in her neighborhood. Wow, I thought to myself, God is making things happen fast. We ended up purchasing the home and placing our current house on the market.
We moved into the smaller home in January. The other house had been on the market only a few months and nothing so far. We believed God had initiated this whole move so we continued to pray and remain hopeful. In March, one glorious morning, I rode my bike to work, but never rode it home due to an unexpected encounter with a car. My subsequent recovery totally occupied my mind for a few months, so I barely thought about the house not selling.
Summer came and went. No sale. Helpful friends would suggest tangible actions we could take to speed things along. “Have you put St. Joseph in the ground?” they queried. Seriously? Isn’t this going to anger the good saint rather than encourage him to be helpful to our cause? Who came up with this anyway?
The tradition of putting a statue of St. Joseph in the ground to aid in the sale of your home apparently goes back centuries. St. Joseph is the Patron Saint of Families and if one wants a quick sale they should bury him in the yard and pray for his intercession. When the house sells you dig up St. Joseph and put him in a place of honor in the new home. We complied, and prayed daily for his mediation. “Is he upside down?” asked another. What does that have to do with anything? I wondered. In desperation we did that ridiculous maneuver and kept praying.
We painted more, landscaped better, priced lower. No sale. The largest obstacle appears to be the newly approved, five-lane freeway, planned just behind the house. For sixteen years we lived there, and nothing. When we finally want to sell, Arizona Department of Transportation definitively makes its move.
“Do you have St. Joseph facing north or west?” We failed to see what direction an upside down plastic, likeness of the foster father of Jesus had to do with the sale of our home. “Are his hands pointing towards your front door?” While this potentially sacrilegious action appears to have been very effective for many folks, I really believe with all my heart that all decisions are either in God’s plans or they’re not.
Any saint in heaven knows they only cooperate with God’s will, rather than thwart it if their plastic likeness is knee deep in mud. It seemed blatantly obvious to us that God clearly wasn’t on board with the sale at this time. Yet, we continued to pray even switching up the various saints to intercede for us, just to see who might have more influence up there. The newest candidate was St. Pio of Pietrelcina, the beloved Padre Pio.
In my frustration and impatience, I assumed being more specific on a closing date might encourage God to try harder. I would close my novena to St. Pio by stating that I wanted the sale to happen in October.
Dangerous territory I know. Desperate people do desperate things.
This past Saturday, I was privileged to attend a retreat our parish was offering whose primary focus was the Holy Spirit in our lives. During a presentation given by our pastor, a slide popped up featuring the face of St. Pio. He seemed to be looking directly at me, accompanied by this bold quote, “Don’t give God deadlines.” Imagine my surprise as I read this message meant for me. God even uses Power Point to talk to us. Our pastor, I might add, knows nothing of this situation with our house, nor the novena. I sat there in my seat and let the weight of these four little words sink into my rock-hard cranium. Not only was God hearing my prayers through St. Pio, God encouraged St. Pio to deliver His message back to me loud and clear, “Don’t give God deadlines.”
God hears what we are thinking, praying, or saying. This was no exception. Anyone who dares think that God doesn’t listen simply because He doesn’t respond in the way they want, doesn’t really grasp the essence of an omnipotent God.
So what am I doing with all this? For starters I’m praying with a more open-ended surrender which allows for God to surprise me, if he so chooses, with something that might not look like anything I could have ever imagined. During one of my more dark and discouraged moments back in September as I said my evening prayer using the Magnificat booklet, I read this, “Beware of boxes too comfortable to allow God to intrude with plans far different than your own…” Was I putting God in a tiny little box of my making? Sadly, yes.
It isn’t easy being me, or you for that matter. Despite our age and experience God is always teaching us the path to holiness. I may have given up on someone like me years ago if I were God, but in not giving God deadlines he has plenty of time and imagination to take everyday circumstances and weave a lesson into them. And that is how much he loves us and desires to spend eternity with us.