Have you ever prayed for holiness? What do people pray for? Many pray for other things– a job that which they hope to get, good grades in some important examination or a cure for some illness that has beleaguered one in life. And not all of them get answered in the way that they expect. To be sure, there are many who speak up and share about how God had not been listening to their prayers, or has been dawdling over answering such prayers.
Yet, by the same token, it makes me wonder how is it that I have yet to hear anyone speak about how loathe God seems to be in answering prayers imploring Him to bring one to heights of holiness. Of course, it could well be that such prayers have promptly been answered by God, negating any need for one to bring it up as a ‘problem’, but my gut feel is that I don’t think many people have thought it appropriate or even necessary to pray for holiness in life.
Why would this be the case? Perhaps the fear is that once a person begins to walk the path of holiness, one will begin to ‘lose out’ on life’s joys, thinking (erroneously, of course), that a holy person, or one who makes holiness a quest, rarely, if ever, is joy-filled in life. Could it be that for many, it is better to enjoy life sans holiness, before holiness becomes no longer a choice, but something mandatory. Someone put it so succinctly recently to me – “instead of praying for holiness, perhaps most of us are really praying for hollow-ness” in the things that we are asking of God, leading us to hollow lives, rather than holy lives. St Augustine’s famous prayer of “Lord, make me holy, but not today” comes to mind.
But isn’t this good to know? That if St Augustine, a GIANT of the Church and someone who reeks of holiness could think this way, so can many, many others too. I am wondering if many feel that goodness and holiness appear to be direct antitheses of wayward, carefree and joyful living. Who would want to lose out on what the world deems as ‘fun’ and ‘entertaining’? But what we need to ask ourselves in the face of these ‘sacrifices’ is whether these are indeed what they purport themselves to be. In most cases, these thrills and joys are often fleeting and momentary, leaving us exhilarated albeit for a moment, and parched and wanting the very next. This being the case, then the ability to peer through the veneer of what doesn’t last must be a grace that helps us to enter into truth that lasts, and love that perdures.
The search for holiness is not something only for the elite. That is a misconception. It is for everybody. And if we have never prayed for this before, Advent is a good time to start on that search for holiness. And I am sure that it is one petition that God will never leave unanswered because it is a prayer that requests a closer walk with God, and to live and love like he does. It’s not the holiness bit that is difficult. It’s the ways in which God wants to lead us to the green pastures of holy living that are often problematic and a bit of a challenge for us. Sometimes it can be through a winding path of disappointments, failures, illnesses, death of loved ones, or some struggle in life. We’d rather a joyful and uplifting journey all the way, but hasn’t it been shown that failure and success are the ‘two hands of God’?
In our fervent prayer for holiness, which is a prayer for wholeness and Godliness, we will be stretched to live within expanded borders and greater unconditionality. It will be a ‘dangerous’ way to live, because you are allowing God to reveal mystery to you. May this be an Advent that is ‘dangerously blessed’ for all.