Do you ever feel like you want something really bad, but you aren’t really sure God can give it to you? There’s a joke about a woman who had a big mountain behind her house, and she couldn’t see the valley on the other side. She got angry, and she knew her Gospel so she said, “I’m going to pray, because the Lord said, ‘If you have faith of a mustard seed, you can move a mountain’ ” (see Matt. 17:20). Well, she prayed, and the next morning she got up and there was that mountain sitting there, as big as ever. And she said, “That’s what I thought. Ha, ha.” You see, she didn’t have any actual faith or trust in God.
Zechariah & Holiness
Now let’s talk about Zechariah, the great father of John the Baptist. I want to see if you don’t think this way with your own life and your family. Families become hopeless today because people start to despair and say, “Well, there’s nothing I can do!” Yes, there is. You can be holy! You may be the only one striving, but you’re there. That only means you’re like Jesus, and you cannot tell me that being like Jesus will not transform your neighborhood, your school, your parish, and your family.
Now, Zechariah had been married a long time but had no children. Imagine, husbands, that you wanted a son to carry on your name, and you and your wife prayed day after day after day. But nothing ever happened. Well, Zechariah went to offer incense in the Temple, as always. But this time, all of a sudden, an angel appears.
How many of you have seen an angel? Here is a man who has had a longing in his heart for years and years and years. Suddenly, he sees an angel standing in front of him.
And the angel said, “Zechariah, do not be afraid.” Imagine the old man there, his knees shaking, scared to death. The angel continued, “Your prayer has been heard” (Luke 1:13). Wouldn’t that do something to you? But the angel’s not finished: “And your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth; for he will be great before the Lord” (Luke 1:13–15). Can you imagine somebody telling you that about a son you were about to have?
We Are Not Alone
You see, back then, they had the same problems you and I have today. Family life is disrupted because we’re so busy being our own person. I never in my life saw so many people running around “looking for themselves.” They are like dogs running after their own tails. I don’t know if you know who you are, but I know who I am. I learned that in the first grade! I’m a child of God and an heir to the Kingdom. (You say, “That’s just the Baltimore Catechism.” Try it; it wouldn’t hurt you a bit!) You have been chosen by God. You’re somebody, yes, but you’re also family. “No man is an island.” You can’t live alone. You don’t live alone.
Sure, you love yourself, but it’s only a love built in Jesus. And that love has to go out; you can’t keep it to yourself. I never heard of keeping love to yourself. Even on a natural level, two people in love can’t hide it. They can walk in a room without saying a word, and you know it. That’s how it is with Jesus. See, a family is to be in love first with Jesus and then with each other. But if you don’t have a tremendous volume of love coming from God, you don’t have anything to give.
“How can I be sure of this?”
So Zechariah is being told that John the Baptist was going to bring all this together. Do you know what Zechariah said? “How can I be sure of this?” Can you imagine this angel here in all his beauty, telling this man all these wonderful things, and he says, “How can I be sure?” My friends, this is a holy man I’m talking about, but even he didn’t respond right. And haven’t you done that to God?
Not only does Zechariah ask for proof: He says, “I am an old man.” (That must have been news to the angel, standing there looking at him with a long beard and all crumpled up.) He’s not through yet. He says, “and my wife is advanced in years” (Luke 1:18). He’s telling the angel: “Forget it, brother. I know you mean well, but this is impossible. See you the next time I’m in here.” That’s an imperfect man, but also, Scripture’s saying, a holy man. You see, to struggle is a part of holiness.
Let me tell you, though, don’t mess around with an angel, because here’s how he responds:
I am Gabriel, who stand in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things come to pass, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time. (Luke 1:19–20)
You know, we’re an odd bunch of people. We pray for things, but we’re so sure the Lord isn’t going to do them that we even tell Him He can’t do it. But we keep praying anyway. We all do that.
And see, God so often is prevented from doing the miraculous because you and I will not do the ridiculous.
Zechariah was an old man, and his wife was an old woman. That’s what he tried to explain to the angel. But God can change the whole world just for you! I’m not saying He’s going to do it, but He could! You see, sometimes a situation in your life feels so impossible that you obsess over it and forget about everything else. It’s like a horse with blinders on. But if you say, “Lord, I am giving You an impossible situation. I know, though, that I must endure this situation — be it ever so painful, ever so difficult, ever so humiliating, ever so frustrating — as long as You need me to.” Maybe it still seems like nothing happens — but something is happening. It’s happening to you!
God is Always Working
God is working on you all the time. I have frustrating moments every day. My desk is piled high with all kinds of papers, and one of my sweet sisters comes and cleans it up — but then I can’t find a thing! All of my nice scraps get tucked away neatly, and it aggravates me to death! But I know God is telling me something — not only that I am not organized. He’s also telling me, “Angelica, give your neighbor the opportunity of looking at your desk and not going, ‘Ahhhh!’ ” That’s a little thing. Then there are some situations in my life where I say, “Lord, if You can pull this off, believe me You’re really something!” But you see, the very fact I have said, “If You can pull this off” is a kind of hesitation.
The important thing is this: we must never question what God can do, but we must wait in faith to see if He will. What’s the difference? You question God’s power when you say, “If you can.” So many times we do what Zechariah did. But he even went further than that. He said, “I just don’t think it can be done.”
God may not answer our prayers the way we want. He may not answer on your time because sometimes He has to influence other people’s wills; people are stubborn! God isn’t just all of a sudden going to make a special magic formula and change their wills. God works very gently, and that takes time. So that means you’ve got to wait. In the meantime, you’re saying to God, “I bet You can’t do this,” or “You won’t do this.” Well, He can do anything, but sometimes He also doesn’t do it because it’s not for your good.
I know sometimes the Lord has made me wait and wait and wait — and I know that during the waiting I learned a lot. I learned, first of all, that I was impatient, and hopefully I got a little more patience. I trusted God more, and myself less. When you pray, know God can do it! And if you look around with the eyes of faith, you can see how He’s looking everywhere and doing everything for you, always for your good and mine.
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in Mother Angelica’s Guide to the Spiritual Life. It is available from your favorite bookseller or online through Sophia Institute Press.
Photo by Raimond Klavins on Unsplash