This summer, I have been reading St. Augustine's Confessions - albeit in fits and starts, a little here and a little there. Amid the just-for-fun books such as Xenocide and All Creatures Great and Small (quite delightful after graduate school), the record of Augustine's spiritual experience comes back to haunt me and to challenge my own spiritual growth.
Perhaps the most memorable vignette so far involves Augustine's mother, Monica - grief-stricken over her son's slide into heresy and his impending move to Rome, a symbolic move away from the Christian faith of his Carthaginian childhood. Augustine remembers that she follows him down to the wharf as he prepares to leave for Rome, that she guesses he is departing even though he lies and tells her he is only seeing off a friend. As Augustine slips away in the middle of the night, Monica is up praying desparately for her son's return - a prayer that God denies.
Augustine, however, does not conclude that God denied her prayers out of spite - something that cannot be attributed to our God. He does not conclude that God does not desire to provide for her nor even that God wished her to suffer through this period of division from her rebellious son - this final conclusion one that would perhaps be similar to conclusions that some contemporary believers draw. Augustine writes that God "saw deeper and granted the essential of her prayer", that He "did not do what she was at that moment asking, [so] that [He] might do the thing which she was always asking" - bringing Augustine to salvation, something that only happened once he reached Rome.
As believers, we notice when God apparently fails to answer prayer and we conclude that perhaps He knows that what we ask would not be good, or perhaps He wishes us to experience a period of suffering - both acceptable, and often true, conclusions. At a deeper level, however, perhaps God does not answer prayer, not because He wishes to deny us something, but because He wishes to grant us something good. Monica's desire that her son remain in Carthage flew in the face of her deeper & greater desire that Augustine be saved, and so God denied the one and answered the other. As human beings, we have many desires - for a job to pay the rent and grocery bills, for specific direction in every decision, for peace in our relationships with others. Although these desires are all good, as Monica's was itself good, these expectations may well hinder what should be our deepest desire: that we grow closer to God and become more like Him. And so, when God denies our everyday desires, we can rest assured that He is working to bring about those things that we truly desire most.
My plans were, of course, to arrive in the Czech Republic this August - to teach literature there, supporting the work of the local missionaries and mentoring my students in their relationship with Christ. This prayer God denied. What the succeeding months will show is what greater prayers He is answering through this one denial - prayers for those in Prague, and those of us here in the States, and our individual relationship to Christ.
In more specific news, I have seen 3 new monthly supporters join my team - bringing my support up to just under 40%! Additionally, I have received my Czech visa (I just need to send off for it through the mail). My hope is to be in Prague in January, thereby finishing out the school year & these steps show good progress. Thanks to those of you who are supporting me through prayer and finances at this time.