Often we are looking for the newest appliance, car, computer, or phone. We seem to have a default setting that tells us new is better, but when it comes to prayer, we would be better served if we got back to the old, traditional ways. Ask, seek, knock seems basic enough. We ask God for what we want, whether this is better health, world peace, or to discover our purpose in life. But he doesn’t just want us to hang around and do nothing. We pray and then we seek God as the motivating force in the world around us. Where, for example, can we find him in our struggles to discern our purpose in life? Often we think we should be looking for a person, thing, or new circumstance and that this is where we should be focusing our efforts. But Jesus wants us to seek God first. Jesus is the tour guide of our lives; as Pope Francis says, he is “the faithful friend who never abandons us.” Jesus is the one who can lead us to new doorways of existence. When we arrive at these doorways, we can knock. We have to act on these encounters with God—not necessarily pound on those doors, but we need to be courageously persistent in knocking until the door is opened. Like the widow in the aforementioned parable, we are not supposed to give up.

But I think one of the biggest problems preventing us from being granted what we ask for in our prayers is that we don’t know what we want.

Now, I am a red-blooded American male. I love my wife and kids, football, and cold beer, and when conditions are just right (rude people, hot sauce, and lack of sleep), I can hurl curse words in the air that would make truck drivers and sailors high-five each other with delight. But there is something I have to confess. I really love The Notebook, the 2004 movie starring Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams. Intellectually, I know it’s cheesy, and I realize that admitting my fondness for this movie means some people may tell me I have to surrender my Guy Card. In my defense, I contend that the film contains a scene that asks one of the most deeply spiritual questions that could ever be asked: “What do you want?”

In the movie, country boy Noah Calhoun (played by Gosling) has been smitten with rich girl Allie Hamilton (McAdams’s character) ever since he first laid eyes on her when they were teenagers. They share a summer love affair and then go their separate ways, only to find that their hearts are still very much connected.

They meet again years later. Allie seems to have moved on; she’s in love with someone else. But Noah? Well, Noah is still yearning for her. There is a confrontation that culminates with Noah repeatedly demanding of Allie, “WHAT DO YOU WANT? What do you want? What do you want? What-do-you-want?” Allie cannot answer his question. And so I ask you:

What do you want?

So many of us move through life as if we are in a fog, merely going through the motions, always feeling unsettled and uneasy, sensing that there is an unaddressed yearning inside us that never seems to go away. And yet few of us ever ask ourselves what is it that we really want. This is a question that can be difficult to answer, but once you do it in a sincere way, your life can be transformed.

Excerpted from Life Everlasting: Catholic Devotions and Mysteries for the Everyday Seeker by Gary Jansen with the permission of TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright© 2018 by Gary Jansen


  • Gary Jansen is the author of The 15-Minute Prayer Solution and Station to Station and an editor who has worked with best-selling authors Deepak Chopra, Pope Francis, Michael Singer, and Rudy Tanzi. He can be found online at www.garyjansen.com.