I coach youth soccer. I often see my players give up easily when something doesn’t come naturally to them. Someone may have a hard time passing the ball across the field. Or maybe they don’t dribble as well as some of the other players. So after having the ball stolen from them a few times, they want to stop playing because they’ve decided soccer isn’t their sport. They don’t understand that anything new will be difficult but they will get better if they stick with it. But it’s not just children that have a hard time staying with something that is difficult. Adults fall victim to this urge to give up when times are tough too.
I think many of us give up way too easily in the face of hardship. When facing a challenge, we may pray a Rosary or go to Mass and ask God for help. For many of us, the only time we pray earnestly is when we are facing something difficult. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But often we tend to think we’re holding up our end of the bargain with God and He better answer quickly. If God doesn’t deliver, we get upset believing that the whole prayer endeavor was pointless and give it up.
Let’s look at the Fifth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary. Mary and Joseph searched for Jesus for three days in sorrow. What if they had given up after one day of searching? Now I’m sure Jesus would have grown up just fine since he is the Son of God. But Mary and Joseph would have regretted not looking a little harder for their lost son. But as any parent knows, finding a lost child is too important to just give hope after a short period of time. They kept searching and hoping despite the fruitlessness of the first days of searching. And they finally found Jesus.
What makes praying to God frustrating in times of difficultly is that we don’t know when or how God answers. Unfortunately, there isn’t a chart we can look at to know when God answers our prayers. It would be convenient if we could look up the Catechism and see that one Rosary novena will yield a small request being granted within two weeks. But that’s not how God works. For some, it’s three days in sorrow, for others it’s three decades.
As much as we don’t enjoy hardship and sorrow, they are powerful tools that draw us closer to God. In realizing our sorrow and asking God for help, we also acknowledge our dependence on God. We realize that true happiness is something that comes through Him, not in our worldly institutions or through our own actions. Furthermore, in prayer, we may receive comfort, strength, and grace in ways we don’t even realize. We may be so focused on God wanting to address a particular sorrow, we overlook the other ways He may be answering us. At the very least, God may be giving us increased strength to endure our hardship for another day.
We have to realize that God’s timeframe and overall goal is much different than ours. We may hope or expect an answer in a matter of days. But it may be months, years, or an entire lifetime before we get an answer. But what’s a single lifetime in God’s grand plan? Even the most terrible human suffering will be looked at as a trivial inconvenience compared to the eternal happiness of Heaven. God often answers our prayers by putting us on a track towards Heaven. That may not require eliminating our worldly problems. The saints understood this and endured many challenges and sorrows because they knew that God was helping them and others achieve lasting comfort in Heaven.
When you feel impatient or hopeless over life’s challenges, meditate on the Fifth Joyful Mystery. Think about how Mary and Joseph didn’t give up finding Jesus and neither should we. And often, like Mary and Joseph, we’ll find Jesus and relief from our suffering in the most obvious of places — our Father’s house, the Church.