Posted by: Jenny | Monday, 21 September 2009

May you get what you wish for

When faced with a difficult situation or problem, it is natural for us to wish for a good outcome. If we are in the habit of praying, we will probably want to pray for the healing of a loved one, or more generally, for an end to wars. There may be occasions when we pray, or at least wish, for a very specific outcome even to a trivial problem: “O God, help me to find my car keys so that I can get to the meeting on time and not embarrass myself or my host…”

Rabbi Jonathan Romain wrote a thoughtful piece on prayer in Saturday’s Times. It was to mark the festival of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, a time of prayer, reflection, and hope for the future. He makes reference to a new prayer book entitled Really Useful Prayers with words for use in specific situations. For example, if you are about to sit your driving test. And he questions “what sort of prayers are appropriate and if there are things for which worshippers shouldn’t pray?”

Bahá’í scripture offers us a wealth of prayers, some of them generic in nature, some more specific, such as the prayers for healing, for travellers (“… enable me to return home in safety, even as Thou didst enable me to set out under Thy protection with my thoughts fixed steadfastly upon Thee”), newly-weds, expectant mothers, children and many more. These prayers do not ask for miracles to be performed in order to achieve a specific outcome. When an expectant mother asks God to protect the child growing within her, she is well aware that that child may have problems, either at birth or later in life, and indeed may not survive at all. So she is praying for the spiritual welfare of the unborn infant, and for her own fortitude in accepting whatever trials she may have to face.

Rabbi Romain makes the same point with regard to the practice of prayer in the Jewish tradition: we ask for “inner qualities rather than outer changes”. The driving test candidate does not ask God to make the roads miraculously clear of traffic, or the instructor negligent enough to overlook mistakes. Instead he or she prays “Help me to concentrate my mind every moment as I drive…”

If our purpose in life is to acquire spiritual qualities through the way we behave towards others, prayer can only serve to make us more conscious of this, and allow us to face life’s challenges as they arise. “May you get what you wish for” is said to be an ancient Chinese curse. If I wish for something specific, it may not be good for me. But if I wish, or pray, for the betterment of the world and for the strength to play my small part in it, surely I will rise from my prayer stronger and more focussed on my task.



  1. This is such a good reminder of what prayer is all about. Thanks very much Jenny.

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