Many people have a very naïve view of what it means for a scientist to perform experiments. Honestly I did too for the majority of my pre-college years. What we see in our science classes is these neatly put together “experiments” that if done properly have a tidy little result that the teacher already knows will happen.
You as the student are then told to go about the scientific method.
- Gather information.
- Create a hypothesis.
- Test hypothesis.
- Record results.
Each of these steps has a right and a wrong answer. There is only one outcome that is acceptable. Everything goes according to plan.
In the first month of me working for my professor in graduate school he shared some wisdom with me. He said, “99% of the time, we as scientists fail. And that is okay because it makes that 1% so sweet.”
So the real scientific method when put in practice looks something like this:
- Pick a topic that interests you.
- Read as many scientific articles on said topic as your brain can hold.
- Find a hole in the library of knowledge, something no one has figured out yet.
- Come up with a hypothesis.
- Design an experiment that you think will test that hypothesis.
- Perform experiment.
- Get results that don’t match your original hypothesis.
- Create new hypothesis.
- Design and perform experiment.
- Get results.
- And repeat and repeat until you retire or choose a new topic.
The point is that no matter how much you think you know, there are always other things going on. When we run experiments we gain new knowledge and quite often that knowledge isn’t what we were expecting. That doesn’t mean the knowledge isn’t important. In fact that knowledge may be much more of a breakthrough than your original hypothesis.
As an example, when I was first starting my graduate work, I had read articles for about 6 months and had designed my experiment. I knew that people hadn’t been able to find a structure of my molecule when it was in solution using laboratory techniques, so I was going to use computational techniques to find it. They had taken physical samples of the protein and used fancy microscopes and other techniques to try to observe its movements, but I was going to make a model of it on a computer so that I could see it more closely and for a longer period of time.
It was BRILLIANT! …or so I thought. After 6 months of running my simulations, my molecule hadn’t moved at all. I soon discovered that my techniques would be unable to capture what I had wanted. I would have to come up with something else, but it was not all loss. I had learned valuable information. It wasn’t the answer I was looking for, but it was new and helpful knowledge nonetheless.
Recently I had an experience in my prayer life that seemed almost identical to this. God answered my prayers, but not the way I wanted. And this happens all the time, this was just a rare occurrence where I was able to immediately see how God was working. Usually it takes years of reflection and other events happening before we see what was truly going on. This on the other hand was pretty straight forward.
After finally finishing my degree, now 3 years into marriage, my husband and I had discerned and decided that we were ready to try to have kids. My husband and I have prayed about it and we believe that we are called to be parents and we are excited to start that now that I’m done with school.
As we have done with the rest of our marriage, we’ve given our fertility over to God, specifically through the intercession of Mary. For the last month or so, Nick and I have been praying the “Miraculous 54-day Rosary Novena” with the specific intention of a “safe and healthy pregnancy”. The way this novena works is that for the first 27 days you pray a daily rosary asking for a specific intention. Then you spend the next 27 days praying a daily rosary of thanksgiving for blessings received, no matter how that prayer has been answered.
I first heard of it from Jackie Francois who prayed it for her boyfriend to propose and on the 27th day he broke up with her. And then she still had to keep praying for 27 more days thanking God for answering her prayer in this way even though it wasn’t how she had hoped it would turn out. 3 years after that she prayed it again with the intention of her future husband and she ended up meeting him on day 2 of that novena.
So for ours I prayed for a “safe and healthy pregnancy” because I had friends and family with miscarriages and I just wanted everything to go well as Nick and I started this journey together. But then 2 or 3 days before ovulation (the time when babies can be made) I had an appointment with a new endocrinologist. This doctor told me that some of the medicine I was on was not approved for pregnancies because it wouldn’t travel through the fetal barrier to the child. This along with my numbers being out of whack (the reason I was seeing her in the first place) put me at a high risk of miscarriage and that I shouldn’t even try to get pregnant until I’ve been on this new medicine for a few months!
When she first told me all of this I was DEVASTATED. Nick and I had been responsible and waited, but we are tired of waiting. We are ready to be parents. We have drawn out the plans for our lives and THIS PLAN is how things are supposed to go, but this doctor is telling me I have to change that plan?!? Unacceptable.
So I went home and I cried and I was angry and I sat with it. Then that night it came time to pray my rosary for the day and halfway through it all clicked. We had been praying for a safe and healthy pregnancy and God knew that I needed to get all of this fixed before that could happen. So it was a good thing to find out. It was a good thing that I am waiting and not trying to get pregnant while I am at such a high risk. When it is time, I will be healthy and hopefully my child will be too.
A few days after this revelation, I read last Sunday’s readings (Jeremiah 38: 4-6, 8-10) and I felt like the princes during Jeremiah’s time. Here he was, spreading the good news, but it wasn’t what they wanted to hear. They said, “he is not interested in the welfare of our people, but in their ruin," and that’s kind of how I felt! If God REALLY loved me, then he would have granted my prayers exactly as I wanted them to be answered and since He didn’t, He must want my ruin!
Okay… so that’s a bit dramatic, but in the heat of the moment it’s definitely how I felt. God isn’t a magic genie; He doesn’t work like that. He often works within the bounds of nature, and He knew what was best for me. I had put my faith in Him to ask, but I hadn’t put my faith in His answer.
The often-quoted Bible verse says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” It says that all who ask will receive, but it doesn’t say what they will receive. It doesn’t say that the specific thing you asked for will be given to you in the exact way that you want it.
God works just like scientific research does. You can have a plan and you can know a whole lot and you can set it in motion (through prayer), but the end result might not be what you expected. This doesn’t mean that the end result is bad. This doesn’t mean that God wasn’t listening to your prayers. Like I said, my example is a RARE occurrence that I can clearly see how God answered my prayers. Most of the time it is much more mysterious and we might not ever know how He answered them, but we must pray to God with expectant hearts trusting that He will take care of us. He loves us and holds each one of us in His hands. Trust Him enough to ask, but also trust in the answer given.