When I was a child, I really wanted to get the toy in the Fruity Pebble’s box. It was a silly little ink stamp in the shape of a dinosaur. So I very publicly announced “Dibs” on the stamp, which with my brothers had always been their way of laying claim to something they want. But it was still a very full box of cereal. I anxiously was eating my bowl of cereal knowing that it would take us a week to get to that toy. Well one of my older brothers came through and shoved his hand deep into the cereal and searched around finding the stamp and took it.
I was so upset. I cried. I told my mother. I did everything I could think to get him to honor the sacred “Dibs”. Nothing seemed to work. I tried to ask him if I could at least share it with him. Nope. He wasn’t having any of it. After much begging and asking, finally he came up with a request. There was something I could do to get that stamp. I could trade bedrooms with him. At that time, he had this tiny little bedroom and I had the bigger room. I really wanted that stamp and quickly agreed to it. My parents warned me that this was a bad deal that I may want to think about what that would mean. But I was bound and determined to go through with this deal thinking that this stamp was what I really wanted.
I spent the rest of my childhood in that tiny room that had just enough room for a small bureau, a twin sized bed and a desk and if I didn’t turn too quickly I wouldn’t ram into something. Looking back on it, my parents were right. It was a rotten deal. But I learned a valuable life lesson. Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it. I got a tiny little room and a stamp from a cereal box that dried up within a few days. It all came at a cost.
This is the same lesson that Samuel was trying to teach to the Israelites. They came to Samuel, who was prophet and judge (which was a leader of the people appointed by God), and asked him to establish a monarch for them. They wanted to be like all their neighbors. They wanted the security and stability. Yet Samuel warned them, just like my parents warned me, that what they asked for would come at a terrible cost to them. The people kept asking kept demanding, and so they got the king of their choice. A king, who was like all the other kings around, even though this risked their families, their freedom, their lands, and introduced them to the obligation of paying taxes for the first time.
They got everything they asked for in the very flawed King Saul who became everything Samuel warned the people of. But then after him they got a King by God’s design King David. Sometimes we ask and plead with God for wishes, sometimes very specific wishes that are not based in faith or God but purely in human desires. Then we become disappointed when those wishes don’t come true. But what God is teaching the people of Israel is that he is not a magical genie, there to grant us whatever we want. He is here to guide us and the lead us in the paths that are going to be best for us and his work in the world.
We should be working to place our complete trust in God asking him to reveal to us his will, to make us whole. Teresa of Avila wrote, “Let nothing disturb thee; let nothing dismay thee: all things pass; God never changes. Patience attains all that it strives for. He who has God finds he lacks nothing; God alone suffices”. Our prayers should be based in God and not in desire or wishing. They should be genuine asking for strength, healing, guidance, understanding, and renewal.
God doesn’t always give us everything we ask for and sometimes that is for the best. Sometimes we are not fully prepared for the repercussions of our requests. This is what Samuel warned the people of. This is what my parents warned me of. And this is what Jesus’ family worried about. They worried that his popularity, his healings, his radical teachings, drew dangerous attention to Jesus and they worried that he was not prepared for the dangerous repercussions of such a ministry, of the attention Jesus desired. Jesus says, “ And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.” Jesus was telling his family and friends who were concerned that he understood what he risked. Yet his dedication, his loyalty was to God and not to his own life. God was his focus in his life. Helping people find a relationship with the holy was most important, helping those who suffered was most important. He understood the repercussions of the life laid out for him, of what he desired for the people, and he moved forward with it anyway.
Today we are being challenged to seek a deeper prayer life with God, not just using God for wishes and demands. We are being challenged to ask God to lead us, to give us strength, to teach us. We are challenged to understand that the prayers that go unanswered, that get those silent responses, are prayers that are not meant to be fulfilled because they are not God’s will for us and the world. They go unanswered because there is something else God intends for our lives. They go unanswered because what we ask for may not actually be what we need. So go forth and seek out God and when you pray don’t be so specific but rather ask for God to open your eyes and hearts to the answers he does provide for us.
 Teresa of Avila, 14th century mystic.
 Mark 3: 34-35, RSV.
(Based on 1 Samuel 8: 4-20; 11: 14-15 and Mark 3: 20-35)