Fellas, let’s talk about what we’re praying for. You do ask for things when you pray, right? St. Louis de Montfort says that asking for nothing is a great pitfall to avoid when praying one’s rosary. This is usually pretty easy to do, also, if we remember to do it: simply tell God that the prayers we are offering are for some specific intention, if it please Him to grant it. If your mind begins to drift in prayer, this can even help you to remain focused, by calling to mind that you have asked God for this favor from Him and so the least you can do is pay attention in the act of asking. Indeed, Christ assures us that if we ask our Father for an egg, He shall not hand us a scorpion. This is mostly a metaphor but hey, if you really need an egg, you could do far worse than asking the Lord who has formed every bird that flies beneath Heaven.
St. Louis de Montfort
What should you pray for? Probably whatever you need most at this moment, for starters. Everything you have and are has come to you from God, so it’s not like it would be a change of pace for Him to give you something. Your mind is incapable of imagining most of reality (only a little bit of which is material) so it’s not like you are capable of making a request God does not understand. You can ask for a safe drive home for yourself or your loved ones. You can ask for a job. You can even just ask for the strength to somehow get through to the end of an awful day you are having, if you should be so afflicted. St. Louis suggests that you ask in particular for whatever virtues you find yourself struggling with.
What if God does not give you what you ask for? First you must keep in mind that God always hears your prayers: there is nothing in the impossibly brief instance that is your earthly life that is hidden from the Divine Sight. Hopefully you are asking Him for something which is truly a good, even if it is a fairly low order one (if you are asking Him for something you know is evil you need to stop and go to Confession). You might even be asking Him for something which is pretty huge, and this is indeed fine to ask of the Lord who has measured the heavens in a span: St. Teresa of Avila says “you pay God a compliment by asking great things of Him.” But God is not a vending machine: if you ask Him for what you think you need, and in doing so place your trust in Him that He will give you what you need, then He in His love will give you what you actually need, whether you realize that immediately, or a year from now, or on the Day of Judgment when all things that have happened in Heaven and on earth are laid bare to all. Whenever you do realize, be sure to thank Him.
Do not make the mistake of thinking there are things that you can do “on your own” and that you should only trouble God with requests to miraculously heal chronic diseases. You can accomplish nothing worth accomplishing without His help, whether or not you realize you are receiving it. God is perfectly deliberate; every breath that you draw has been prepared to you since before time by His will. Every moment you continue to exist is at His forbearance. Every good thing that comes to you has been granted to you because He loves you.
Hannah, who asked God for a son.
He knows everything you need before you ask, it is true; but this also does not mean you should not ask Him for things. The beasts and plants receive all that they need from Him as well, but He has raised you above them by giving you the chance to contemplate Him, as the angels do. He waits for you to pray to Him so that in asking for lesser things you might be helped in raising your mind to the best thing, His infinite Self. It was the Lord of Heaven made flesh who told you “Ask, and you shall receive.” Remember this.