A friend said, "St. Monica had nothing on me." I knew she had been praying for the conversion of her husband far longer than the years St. Monica prayed for the salvation of her son St. Augustine.
My friend, a modern-day St. Monica, has a lot of company. Like the father of the Prodigal Son, many parents continue to pray long after their children have become adults and gone down some dark path.
In fact, most of us know of a wife, husband, brother, sister, child or friend making the choice to live without the light of Christ in their lives. Though we pray without ceasing, it is hard to continue to hope when prayers seem to have gone unanswered for so many years.
Even if there appears to be no change in the person for whom we pray, our prayers can still bear fruit in unexpected places. The most indelible image I have of my mother is seeing her kneeling in prayer by her bed each night.
We knew she prayed especially for the light of Christ in our father. She was also praying for my brother, for me and everyone she knew who might be lost, ill, or may have strayed off the straight and narrow path a little bit.
I don't know the results of most of those countless nights of prayer, and perhaps she never knew some of the results either. I do know the effect her life of prayer had on my life. Her nightly act of faith still serves me well as a model of how a Christian prays.
I am certain, too, that her life of constant prayer changed her. People who continue to pray can get discouraged, frustrated and even angry with God. These things can happen only because we are in a relationship with God: a relationship that grows stronger when we refuse to walk away.
Mother Teresa's words, "God does not call us to be successful; he calls us to be faithful," have encouraged many who pray without seeing results. We are not responsible for the results of our prayers.
Those who pray long past the time when hope should have become despair come to understand deeper truths that can be discovered only through experience. The constant support of prayer is real support, providing something close to bedrock beneath those for whom we pray.
Among all of the questions we must carry, the most difficult may be the question of unanswered prayer. Answers will be given, if not in this life, then in the life to come. We may be surprised at the answers to some of our prayers.
Christ himself spoke of some unexpected people ending up in God's Kingdom. Those who will be the most surprised of all may be the ones who find themselves ushered into the Kingdom because someone, somewhere never stopped praying for them.