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How to deal with disappointment in prayer

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Philip Kosloski - published on 10/21/21

If you are disappointed by how God answered a prayer, take this advice from St. Augustine.

Do you ever get disappointed when you ask God to take away pain and suffering and he doesn’t do it? It can be frustrating when you pray as hard as you can for help from God, and then it seems as if he ignores your prayers.

What should you do?

St. Augustine has some advice in A Letter to Proba. He first explains how we often don’t know how to pray as we ought when we encounter suffering.

[W]hen we are suffering afflictions that might be doing us either good or harm, we do not know how to pray as we ought. But because they are hard to endure and painful, because they are contrary to our nature (which is weak) we, like all mankind, pray to have our afflictions taken from us. At least, though, we owe this much respect to the Lord our God, that if he does not take our afflictions away, we should not consider ourselves ignored and neglected, but should hope to gain some greater good through the patient acceptance of suffering. For my power is at its best in weakness.

Sometimes God answers our prayers in the positive, relieving us of the suffering we are asking God to remove.

However, that doesn’t always happen, and this can lead to disappointment. St. Augustine explains that God allows this to happen for a reason.

[W]e should not be proud of ourselves if our prayer is heard, when we ask for something it would be better for us not to get; and so that we should not become utterly dejected if we are not given what we ask for, despairing of God’s mercy towards us: it might be that what we have been asking for could have brought us some still greater affliction, or it could have brought us the kind of good fortune that brings corruption and ruin. In such cases, it is clear that we cannot know how to pray as we ought.

Above all, we should pray as Jesus prayed in the Garden.

Hence if anything happens contrary to our prayer, we ought to bear the disappointment patiently, give thanks to God, and be sure that it was better for God’s will to be done than our own.  The Mediator himself has given us an example of this. When he had prayed, My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by, he transformed the human will that was in him because he had assumed human nature and added Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I, would have it.

If God disappoints us in prayer, may we not see the negative, but open ourselves to holy obedience, understanding that God’s ways are not our ways.

God has a plan, but we may not always understand it.

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