How to be happy for others when your own prayers seem unanswered

When our friends and family share good news about their lives, we congratulate them with the best intentions, but sometimes we get the nagging feeling that we’re being left out. We see the wonderful gifts that other women have been given — new job opportunities, relationships, and other milestones like pregnancies — and begin to compare our lives to theirs. After spending time together, catching up or even just seeing a celebratory post on social media, we can end up keeping score in spite of ourselves. Even the turn of phrase “catching up” gives the vague impression that life is a race.

This kind of angst impedes our ability to be happy, in general and for others. I’ve suffered from it myself, but since my conversion to Catholicism, I’ve gained a few tools that have helped me overcome the sense of being left behind and instead focus on the truth of how God is working in my life and the lives of others.

1. Intercessory prayer

Catholics have a practical method for teaching ourselves to be happy for others: intercessory prayer. The Church teaches that petitioning God on behalf of others is a more charitable thing to do than praying for yourself. Intercession is one of the four forms of prayer, the others being thanksgiving, adoration and petition. Quite naturally, we feel compelled to pray for people in distress whose needs are imminent, such as when we see another school shooting or natural disaster in the news. But it’s also necessary to pray for those who have been blessed with success and happiness, that their blessings may continue.

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Here’s a personal example of how this works: As someone who hopes to be a wife and mother one day, fertility is close to my heart. So, instead of simply praying for my own fertility, I also pray a regular Rosary for the fertility of all women. Now when I hear pregnancy and birth announcements, I feel much happier than I did before I started praying the Rosary with this intention. This particular happiness is a mixture of tranquility and exuberance that arises in spite of the sting I still feel inside, and yet the sting is included in the happiness itself. In general, this habit of prayer has helped me overcome difficult emotions a little bit better now, thanks to God’s grace.

2. The Mass

Catholics also have a built-in, ready-made way to pray for absolutely everyone — no matter their state in life. During the holy Mass, our prayers are communal, meaning that we pray together. At the same time, we are also interceding for each other, meaning that as I pray for you, you pray for me. Take the Lord’s Prayer, for instance, which is prayed midway through the Liturgy of the Eucharist. It begins with “Our Father,” not “My Father,” and concludes with “deliver us from evil,” not “deliver me from evil.”

In the classic book “Spirit of the Liturgy,” Romero Guardini explains that, through the influence of communal prayer, members of the Faith mutually surrender to each other during worship. At the same time, we each surrender ourselves to God and he, in turn, enhances our dignity as individuals. This means that the closer we come together, the more separate and unique we become, with God’s love flowing through us and between us. So, by assisting at Mass, we each become more spiritually disposed toward others and more spiritually detached from them, too. Detachment helps us to live out our Catholic understanding that all hearts are advancing spiritually toward God, no matter how things appear. Neighbors, friends and family members need our prayers at Mass more than they need answers to their questions about our personal lives. And the more we go to Mass to pray for others, regardless of what they think of us, or even how they treat us, the more we’ll want to go for that reason.

3. Daily gratitude

Another concept that has helped me is gratitude. Every morning I say a mental prayer thanking God for the day. Sometimes I’ll write a list of things I’m feeling grateful for and then turn them over to God in gratitude. This practice of counting my blessings and praying over them is most effective because it slows my pace when I take the time to do it. The effects of the practice of prayer itself are transformational when we incorporate it into our daily lives; we can feel grateful for the opportunity to slow down and assess our circumstances. I ask Our Lady of Good Counsel for the grace of understanding my situation in every area of my life, and you can ask her for this grace, too. Now when times are tough, I tend to be grateful that I have things to be grateful for.

4. Answered prayers

My happiness also grew once I began learning to interpret another woman’s successes and gifts as general proof of answered prayers, for if God is listening to my prayers of intercession on her behalf, that means he’s listening to her prayers for me! I can intercede in communal worship or in private prayer, but either way, the more I pray for others, the happier I become. Each time the friends and family members for whom I pray receive a blessing in their lives, I know I prayed for them to be so blessed. My faith in God increases when I don’t need him to answer my own personal petitions to know he’s listening. The same thing goes for anyone: When I receive a gift from God, that’s proof God is listening to your prayers, too.

As we dive into this new year, I propose we redirect our resolutions. Instead of setting goals of being outwardly productive, let’s begin to notice everything we already possess inside — the things that are inherently God-given to us. Let’s shift our mindset from one of comparison to one of expectant hope, learning to see what has been taking root within our spirits and what happy surprises God might have in store for you and others this year — especially within our hearts.

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