I had a friend once who had the habit of adding “God willing!” to our conversations, especially when talking about the future in any way.
For example, we might make plans to meet for coffee, and I would say, “All right then, see you on Thursday,” and she would reply “Yes, God willing!”
Or I might mention that I was planning to visit family in another state or that my son was coming home from college for the weekend, and she would always add “God willing!”
I have to admit, this unnerved me. I know that we’re all dependent on God for everything we ever do and everything we might ever plan. I know every moment I breathe in and out, every time my heart beats in my chest, and every minute I’m alive is only possible because God wills it. God loves me, God wills that I exist, and so I am.
I do know this. But I guess, somehow, I don’t like to be reminded of it when I make plans for the weekend.
I used to cringe too sometimes when I would hear people add the words “If it be your will” to the end of their prayers. It always felt like those words negated their entire prayer. I mean, Jesus Himself tells us that if we ask, we will receive. Do we believe that? I think if something matters enough that we bring it to prayer, we ought to pray with confidence that God will hear us and answer us. We ought to know that God wants us to have every good thing, so when we pray for good things, we shouldn’t be wishy washy about it. Ask, and we will receive, right? (Matthew 7:8)
Except we can’t ignore that Jesus not only says “everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). He also teaches us to pray with the words “Thy will be done.” He offers an example of prayer for us, in the garden the night before His passion and death, when He prays “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
Not my will. God’s will. My friend’s frequent reminders were spot on.
Maybe it’s because I prefer confident prayer that I like many of the traditional prayers to the Virgin Mary that approach Our Lady with boldness.
On the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary (October 7), I like to recall that the name for the feast was previously “Our Lady of Victory.” Pope Pius V established the feast in the 16th century, crediting Our Lady under that title for the stunning defeat of the Ottoman Empire in a major naval battle. Now there’s a title I can pray with.
I also love the confident opening lines of the Memorare:
“Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided…”
I like to start a prayer by reminding Mary that she has never let anyone down, and for sure she’s not going to start with me. But I don’t so much like to end it by reminding myself that the most important thing ever to pray for is that “God’s will be done.”
I think the key is in bringing those two things together — my will and God’s will. That’s what prayer is all about. I’m working on it.
In her life, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton faced many trials that I’m sure she would have liked to pray away. Throughout her 46 years of life, she faced illness, poverty, death, and loneliness. She grieved her husband and two of her daughters who died from tuberculosis. I’m sure there were times during these trials when she would have liked to approach God in prayer, as I sometimes do, with a detailed list of all the important things He needed to do and provide for her.
And yet she did not. She loved God’s will. She loved it so much she made it her own. She once wrote to her friend Eliza Sadler:
“Would I change one shade or trial of my life? … that would be madness. Oh no, the dear dear dear Adored Will be done through every moment of it, may it control, regulate, and perfect us. And when all is over, how we will rejoice.”
I want to have confidence like that. I pray that Our Lady of the Rosary and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton can help me get there.
In today’s world, we need confident prayer more than ever. Just turn on the news or look at Twitter and you can see that. We need God. But more than that, we need to remember who we are and who God is. Our Lady demonstrated this kind of humility when the angel visited her.
“Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word’” (Luke 1:38).
Let it be according to God’s word. God’s will be done. God willing.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton demonstrated a similar kind of humility when throughout her lifetime, through every kind of suffering, again and again, she submitted herself to God’s will, and she found comfort in doing so. “Thy will be done. What a comfort and support those four little words are to my soul” she wrote to her friend.
And so, I’m making those four little words my prayer today, too. Thy will be done. I will use those words as I pray for all the good things I want for myself and my family. I will use them as I pray for good things to happen in a lost and divided world. And I will ask Our Lady of the Rosary and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton to help me really mean them.
DANIELLE BEAN is the brand manager for CatholicMom.com and former publisher and editor-in-chief of Catholic Digest. Danielle is author of several books for women including Momnipotent, You’re Worth It! and her newest book, You Are Enough. She is also creator and host of the Girlfriends podcast and a popular speaker on a variety of subjects related to Catholic family life, parenting, marriage, and the spirituality of motherhood. Learn more at DanielleBean.com.
Image: Detail from the mural in the Dominican nuns’ chapel in Buffalo, NY.
This reflection was originally published in 2020. Click here to view all Seton Reflections.