We were on a retreat last weekend and a theme came up that I’ve heard before and wanted to repeat. I often ask God for virtue but am surprised at the results. For example I may ask for patience with my kids or wisdom to know how best to raise them. It seems that no matter how often I pray; I’m given neither.
That’s discouraging at first, until I’m reminded that my concept of how God answers prayer needs to be adjusted.
I expect God to answer prayer the same way I answer my kids’ requests. When my almost-one-year-old “asks” for a diaper change, I change her diaper (or get my wife to do it). I expect that when I ask for virtue God will come down and hand it to me. He doesn’t.
The reason that he doesn’t, I suppose, is that I’m not a helpless baby; I’m more like a semi-independent toddler. When my three-year-old asks for a juice box I tell her that they’re in the refrigerator on the second shelf where she can reach them (and don't forget to close the door when you're done!). As a parent I make sure that what she needs is within reach and tell her how to get it. If she really wants it; she’ll get it. That way she'll learn where it is for next time. She learns.
That’s how God deals with me.
He makes virtue available to me. He leaves me overt clues, Scriptures, homilies, books, friends, etc, that clearly point out practical ways to find patience, wisdom, or whatever I need more of today. He puts it in my reach and tells me where to find it.
But he doesn’t bring it to me on a silver platter. If I really want it; he knows I’ll get it. This way, when I find it I’ll learn where it is and will be able to find it more easily next time.
If I’d just get up and go find the virtue God has put within my reach, instead of waiting for him to serve it to me, I’d be a much holier man than I am today.