Yesterday, while listening to several lectures for college, I needed a break. I sensed that instead of listening to the next ones, I would rather read the transcript. These lectures were all on the topic of prayer – specifically unanswered prayer, and they were not terribly uplifting or encouraging. I found myself feeling deeply grateful that I read the last ones instead of listening to the audio. The sorrow the professor kept expressing in each progressive lecture was deeper and deeper and, honestly, very heartbreaking. You could feel the ache in his words and the pain which still exists years after the mournful loss of a loved one.
He quoted from several raw chapters in scripture where the writer’s sorrow runs so deep you can almost feel it physically, too:
How long wilt thou forget me, O LORD? forever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? Psalm 13: 1-2 KJV
But unto thee have I cried, O LORD; and in the morning shall my prayer prevent thee. LORD, why castest thou off my soul? why hidest thou thy face from me? Psalm 88:13-14 KJV
O LORD, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! Habakkuk 1:2a KJV
You couldn't help but see the sadness in these words, too, and wonder, what about all those "unanswered" prayers?
I was thinking on this while I cooked supper, and something occurred to me. As I tried to examine experiences through my whole life and the prayers I have sent heavenward during some of the most horrific times for our families, I cannot think of one single prayer that went UNanswered. Not one.
Then I said to myself, "Well, there was that time in high school I used to always use as an example of unanswered prayer - where I prayed and prayed for a new stereo, and it never came." I recalled how I kept waiting for it to just appear, maybe as a gift from my parents or grandparents - something "miraculous" to me. After all, I was getting good grades and working hard at my job. I wanted that stereo so badly. I guess thinking about it now - it was kind of silly and petty, to be honest. Yet in the mind of a teenager, it was very important.
I think now what a horrible example that was - I honestly believed for years as a young adult that it was an “unanswered prayer.” Yet looking back now, I recall other details: how I was given extra hours at work when someone had an emergency and needed extra time off – I made overtime which was very rare on my job for anyone, especially a teenager! I also was blessed by finding a better stereo than the one I wanted – for less than what I expected! I ended up buying it on a special sale, which left me with money left-over to spend on more records and cassette tapes. I went around telling everyone how "lucky" I was. . .Hmmm. . . Was it truly an unanswered prayer?
What about other times in my life when I thought my prayers went UNanswered?
Well, even when my dad was sick and dying in the hospital, many thought my prayers went unanswered. Yet, truth be told, they were not UNanswered. I recall riding from New Jersey to western New York, praying and praying and praying all the way to the hospital. Asking God to heal my daddy so that he did not hurt anymore. I wanted that disease to go away and prayed, "Abba, give us a miracle!"
My prayers of miracles, though, were not what was displayed. Hours after we arrived, Dad died.
And yet I know beyond a doubt that my prayers were not UNanswered. My prayer was not granted, true. Yet Yahweh DID answer my prayers. With a different answer than the one I wanted, expected, or hoped for, but he DID answer them. I can testify to you that my prayers WERE answered –all those hours that I spent praying, I KNEW they were answered; I FELT them answered; I HEARD them answered. Yet his condition continued to deteriorate. How, then, were my prayers answered? A part of my prayer was that I didn't want that disease to afflict him anymore, and I didn't want him to hurt anymore. Daddy was going Home.
I can testify to you even to this day that I KNOW I received answer to prayer. The problem was, I did not like nor want THAT answer, and it hurt like heck. But you know what? Here’s the hardest part people don't look at: God’s not Santa Claus where I can sit upon his knee and ask him for my wildest dreams, then find it wrapped in pretty paper, waiting for me to rip open the package in gleeful excitement. God’s not my personal Genie in a bottle, waiting to answer my every whim and wish the way I want it to be answered. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder if we feel that way about God when we pray to Him, though. We then get upset with Yahweh because he did not answer our prayers our way.
I kept praying for what I wanted, and I also kept brushing aside the feelings I had deep in my spirit that told me exactly what to expect. There are things in those hours before dad passed away that I did not want to face, and I did not take into consideration as I prayed:
- What of my dad’s prayers? As he lay in that bed, his physical body failing him, his body worn out, tired of fighting and weary, his brain barely functioning from the poisoning happening with the ammonia build up. WHAT WAS HE PRAYING FOR? He was tired, even before the emergency visit to the hospital – he was weary from his body being sick & weak, the physical pain, the depression from the drugs being used to kill the disease ravaging his system. He was tired, weary.
- What of my mom’s prayers? She was so drained from seeing the man she had spent her whole life with, the man she fell madly in love with as a teenager and eloped so she could marry him. She was hurting so much from seeing his illness take every little bit of him away, piece by piece, all his suffering. The dreams they had of retiring and enjoying the cottage life in the woods – swept away by his sickness. What of her prayers?
Neither of my parents were believers and yet I know they were whispering things in their hearts as we all went through this together as a family. Dad, those last several hours, called mom’s name with every breath – as if he had something he HAD to tell her. He seemed relaxed, at peace, and I can’t help to wonder what he needed so deeply to say to her, yet couldn’t.
Still, there I was, thinking about how MY prayers “outranked” theirs.
Then, there I was almost 10 years later, going through the same things again. . . with my momma. Every phone call she talked of how weary she was, tired of the things going on in this world. I asked each time, “Can I pray with you mom?”
“Not yet, Judith. Not ready yet,” was all she would say. This time I didn’t pray for miracle healing – instead, I asked Yahweh to PLEASE fill my heart with what needed to be shared and said to my mom before she left this earth. PLEASE fill my mouth with the words she needed to hear of Him. I told Him if that meant she would be given more time on this earth, then please, heal her! He answered my prayers again – this time with the things I was truly asking for. I learned to put aside my personal wants and my wish list, and pray to help mom try to find her way back to Abba.
Abba is so loving, He is so very merciful, He is so very, very kind. And HE knows what is needed most of all. He makes a much better judge than I do, and I know that. Often times, we pray and we pray and we pray for what WE want, what will make life most comfortable, bearable for US. Then, when we don’t get it, when our wish isn’t granted, we then get angry inside because of our UNanswered prayers.
Yet I wonder. . .if we each just took a moment or two to reflect – were those prayers truly UNANSWERED? Or, did we not like the answer we received?
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Lead Author (Bio)
Jim, (Judi's husband), has Sephardi Jewish ancestry and is a minister and head of Shofar Productions. Jim was a denominational pastor, hospital chaplain, and former director of a non-profit community organization.
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