Dear Lord, please don't let Pat get laid off.
Please heal Sarah from her illness soon.
Please let Phil get into the grad program he so desperately wants to attend.
Please stop Julie's boss from blaming her unreasonably for the department's problems.
But this is not always the most efficacious prayer. The Lord's ways are much more mysterious than ours; maybe Pat won't meet the person who connects him with his dream job unless he loses his current one. Maybe Sarah's death will be the catalyst that draws her entire family back to God. Maybe Phil needs to learn that failure is not the end of the world, and will get a better education at his backup school. Maybe the extreme humility Julie is forced to learn in the face of injustice will come to play an invaluable role in making her a better mother to the children she will have five years down the road.
It's hard to see those we love suffer. I gain much consolation these days from meditating on the Sorrowful Mysteries and the Stations of the Cross. Our Lady was there, following along every step of the way. She watched her son be wrongly accused, brutally beaten, humiliated in every possible way, and slowly - violently - murdered by the state.
I return frequently to the Fourth Station: Jesus Meets His Mother. The two of them make eye contact as He's struggling along the road to Calvary. What did her eyes say to Him? The most noble and fitting explanation I've ever heard is that her eyes communicated love and encouragement: "You can do it!" Certainly she shared His pain, and assuredly He knew that. But to accept that you have to watch someone you love in pain and suffering, even when you know it's for the greater good, is one of the harder crosses to bear.
So lately, I've changed my prayers. For those who are close to Our Lord, who might listen to Him in the face of crisis, I put aside my own desire for their immediate happiness. I don't ask for an end to their oppression, just or unjust. I don't ask for them to receive that which they feel (as do I) is owed to them. Rather, I swallow my fears and ask for their sanctification in this particular situation. May Joey's struggles in this class draw him nearer to You. May Harry and Denise's great desire for children in the face of infertility make them holier. May Terri withstand the awful treatment her mother-in-law is giving her, and may it lead to both their sanctification.
It's a hard prayer, but one that Our Lady keeps reminding me is important. This life is full of sorrows and suffering, and there really is no easy way out. The purpose of this life is to draw close to God and to draw others close to Him.
Mater dolorosa, ora pro nobis.
Mater cruci corde affixa, ora pro nobis.