Several years ago, I found myself sitting in a coffee shop with a friend, discussing the paths our lives were taking, and whether we should follow or change them. “I just don’t know what God wants for me,” I lamented.
“Maybe,” he offered, “God is asking you what you want.”
What did I want? In that moment, I couldn’t answer the question. Sometimes it’s hard to know our own desires.
And although in that moment at the coffee shop I didn’t know what I really wanted for my life, over the years, I’ve found a simple way of figuring out what my truest desires are. (It’s worked for everyone I’ve shared it with, too.)
To find out what you really want, try this: have a good friend (or imagine that a good friend would) ask this simple question: “What can I pray for, specifically?”
When we have to formulate a specific prayer intention, it forces us to be clear about our true desire.
Asking, “what can I pray for, specifically?” is different from “what do you want?” or “what do you want me to do for you?” because when we bring the power of God into the picture, things change. We know it’s serious.
We know God, and we know that we may actually get what we ask for, which means we’ve got to ask for what we really want. Having someone praying for something specific adds a certain weight to help us sort out the superficial from the profound.
Knowing that our prayer may be answered also tends to ensure that we ask for what we actually want: not just what we think we should want, or what other people want for us, no matter how well-intentioned.
It also forces us to set aside things like selfishness or envy: most of us wouldn’t say, “could you pray that my spouse starts doing all the chores because I don’t like doing any” or “please pray that my frenemy loses all her money so I look better than she does.” An honest answer helps us sort out what we feel that we want on an emotional level, from what we really want, deep down: our spouse to be a bit more helpful, our friends to notice us a bit more. Maybe we’re just feeling neglected and need to experience God’s love more powerfully in our lives. And if we find that our deepest desire is actually for something negative, we’ve discovered a place for healing in our lives.
In having to be specific with the intention, we also avoid generalities that can mask our deep desire (no matter how good those generalities are.) Saying, “just pray that it all works out” can be a noble petition, but if the point of the exercise is to help us figure out our own deep desires, a blanket statement is of no use.
So next time you find yourself in the process of discernment and you aren’t sure what you really want, try having someone ask you a simple question: “what can I pray for, specifically?”