Originally written in TACKED THOUGHTS for The Freeman
by Nancy Unchuan Toledo

I love praying novenas. One of my favorites is the one to St. Therese of the Child Jesus. According to Catholic tradition, if within the course of this particular novena, the devotee gets a rose, then it is the saint’s way of saying that one’s prayers will be granted. That has actually happened to many people I know, myself included.

I have other favorites as well. In fact, I used to pray novenas so often that a couple of years ago, I decided to keep a journal of all the graces I asked for and received. I’m not much of a record keeper so that didn’t last very long. But over the years, I have received quite a lot of spiritual and material gifts—courtesy of the intercession of one saint or another. Which is not to say, I’ve received everything I asked for. But then, I’ve asked for so many graces, it is rather hard to keep track.

I used to feel guilty about that—asking for many things. I would start praying the novena for a particular grace and just add a couple of things as I went along the nine days. But then I realized that since God was very generous anyway, he probably wouldn’t mind. It’s not as if each person only has a limited amount of graces he can ask for and beyond that quota, he’d have to fend for himself. God’s generosity, like his love, is an unlimited supply. So I figured, I shouldn’t be too shy about asking for anything. After all, it’s his call whether he decides to give me all or in some cases nothing.

And that’s another thing too. When I was younger, I used to think novenas were like ATMs. I type in the required password and out comes the exact amount. But I haven’t always gotten what I wanted. And it wasn’t even the kind of situation where people say, “when God closes a door, he opens a window.” God’s answer to my prayer was a flat out NO. And then I would get really disappointed and wonder what I did wrong. Had I missed out a word? Were my intentions not very pure? And still, there was no answer. And I would withdraw myself from God and try not to ask too many things because I was afraid of being disappointed. Until I realized, that in general, people only ever open themselves up to be disappointed by the people they truly love.

It took me a while to realize that God is as much a person as I am. He is free to give to whomever he chooses. He is free to answer whatever prayer he chooses. He is free to give to both the worthy and the unworthy. And if I couldn’t allow him to be who he is, then I didn’t really love him. Thomas Merton wrote: “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”

I still continue to pray my novenas. In fact, I’m in the middle of one right now. Whether I get what I want is something that remains to be seen. But it no longer matters. I started praying novenas because I wanted to change God’s mind. But in the midst of my prayers, I find that God is slowly and surely changing my heart.

About Nancy Unchuan Toledo

When Nancy started teaching high school at age 21, she didn’t really think she’d make a career out of it. She was right. Ten years later and she realized teaching isn’t her career, it’s her passion. Writing is her passion, too, and she writes a bi-monthly column for the Freeman. Mostly she writes about her family, her friends, her students, her experiences in teaching, her love of books and her faith. Because those are the things that she cares about the most–although not necessarily in that order.

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