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Does your prayer have a prayer? How Lupe taught me to pray.

For three years of my life, I had the great privilege of having a good friend named Lupe. Lupe was a young mother. She was a wonderful, faith-filled, powerful woman with a great sense of humor. I knew Lupe in the final three years of her life, as she died a slow, painful death of a progressive, debilitating disease. In those years, she taught me the greatest lessons I ever learned about prayer.

Early in our friendship, Lupe was angry with God. She said, "God doesn't listen to my prayers. I've prayed and begged God for my health. I've prayed the rosary; I've prayed to the saints; my friends have prayed for me. And I'm not getting better. I promised God that I would be the best wife and mother in the world if only I could be healthy again. Instead, my husband left me alone with four little children when I got sick. Now I can barely take care of them.

"I get even more angry," she went on, "when I hear other people talk about how God has answered their prayers. Why not mine? No one prayed more than me."

Few of us have known the depth of suffering that Lupe went through in her last years. Many of us, though, can recognize some of her feelings. We have prayed for friends, for family, for ourselves, and we have felt that God has not heard, or that God has not cared. When we hear someone else credit their good fortune to prayer, we can't help but wonder: Do they have more faith than we do? Do they know some special way to pray that we don't know? Does God like them better?

Despite her anger and her disappointment, Lupe kept praying. Toward the end, she told me some very different things about prayer. She told me that her prayers were now much more for her children than for herself. She even prayed in gratitude "that God has let me hang on long enough to be sure that my children learned what I could teach them about life and about right and wrong." (Her children have grown into delightful young people.)

She prayed for her ex-husband: "It is sad that he didn't think he could handle the pain and felt he had to leave. I ask God to help him grow up, to be a man, and to be there for his children when they need him." (A few months before Lupe died, she needed to go to a nursing home. Her ex-husband took the children into his home and cared for them faithfully.)

The last time I spoke with her, Lupe said to me, "I still don't understand why this happened. But God helped me do what I had to do. I am so thankful."

I find four lessons that Lupe taught me about prayer.

1. Be honest.

Lupe always spoke to God in complete sincerity. When she was angry, she told God she was angry. When she was desperate, she prayed in desperation.

There is no sense in just telling God what you think God wants to hear. God knows what is in your heart.

When you pray, you are not trying to flatter God. Prayer is a matter of opening your heart to God, that God might fill you with the Spirit. If you feel something, express it to God. If you want or need something, ask.

If we are honest and sincere with God, God can change us. In the end, that is the goal of prayer--to be open to God so that God can transform us into the people God wants us to become.

2. You can't change God's mind.

The purpose of prayer is not to convince God to do things your way. Too many times we approach God as though we think God has made a terrible mistake and needs to be corrected. Worse yet, we act as though there is some secret prayer formula we can follow that will force God to do what we want.

Jesus admonished his followers to trust God. While it is important to be open and honest with God, we need always to remember that God is in charge.

We need to be very careful not to credit our prayers for good things that happen to us. If we have known goodness, it is because God is good--not because of anything we have done. If we credit our good fortune to our prayers, we have claimed credit for ourselves that belongs to God.

Prayer can help us to recognize and to receive God's goodness and grace, but our prayers are not the reason for God's goodness. If I credit my good fortune to my faith or to my prayers, I imply that those who suffer misfortune are not faithful and not prayerful. That is simply contrary to our Christian faith.

3. Listen.

Prayer is a dialogue. After we have shared all that we are with God, we need to listen. God's response may not be exactly what we were expecting. Ours is a God of surprises.

4. You might be the answer to your prayers.

I once heard a theologian speaking to a group of students. A student asked, "Do you believe in angels?" The theologian paused for a moment and answered, "I think you can only believe in angels if you believe you might be one."

Lupe's prayer, her honesty with God, and her willingness to listen in trust for God's answer was an invitation for God to use her as an angel on this earth. She allowed God to make her a messenger of grace and strength for her children, her husband, and others like me who had the good fortune of being part of her life.

You can order this article as a parish handout titled "Does God answer our prayers?" (cp-921)

It is one of 33 titles in Claretian Publications' popular new parish handout series

IN GOOD FAITH--Available in both English and bilingual versions--

Other In God Faith titles include:

* What's in the Bible and how should we read it? (by Alice Camille)--cp-919

* Why is there evil and suffering? (by Alice Camille)--cp-922

* The papacy: rock of the church (by Robert McClory)--cp-933

* Authority: Who's to say in the church? (by Jim Dinn)--cp-916

* How to protect our children from sexual abuse (by Dolores Curran)--cp-932

* Forgiveness: We're covered (by Alice Camille)--cp-929

* Five questions about being Catholic (by R. Scott Appleby)--cp-903

* Praying the Mass (by Bishop Kenneth Untener)--cp-923
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To order any of these, or for a complete list of In Good Faith titles, call Claretian Publications at 1.800.328.6515

By DAVID LINERS, a lead organizer of WISDOM, a congregation-based justice organization in Milwaukee.
COPYRIGHT 2003 Claretian Publications
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2003, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes list of parish handouts and ordering information
Author:Liners, David
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2003
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