Sunday, February 1, 2015

Stumbling falling down faith 2: Unanswered Prayer

I recently received an anonymous message that said, "when yu purposely for whats lookin like attention & pity, try an make God look bad fer not answerin all ur prayers its too hard to remain silent." Honestly, I may have said or done something that conveyed that at some point in life. As we go through the stages of grief, as we travel through the wilderness, there is an angry space we usually have to cross, and in that place we may say most anything. And I have a notoriously bad filter. If I think it, I usually end up saying it. That is not, however, the way I actually feel. The fact is that I don't expect God to answer all my prayers, or at least not in the way I have in mind, and I have complete peace about it.

I'm sure I will get some flack for that comment, but I do have a child who was kidnapped and has remained missing for more than 26 years. Believe me, I prayed for her, and what I prayed for was for her immediate safe return home. And it wasn't my prayers alone at stake here. Literally thousands of people were praying for her, from the day she was kidnapped until now. We have no idea what happened to her, where she is, but we do know that she wasn't brought safely home, not immediately, and not at any time in the following 26 years. There are also people who are sick, whose family and loved ones pray fervently for their healing, and yet they pass on. That is the ultimate healing perhaps, but clearly not the healing everyone prays for. The fact is that in spite of all the faith in the world, there are prayers that are not answered.

But that's okay, ultimately, in the greater purposes of God.

Honestly, could you imagine a world in which all of our prayers (or at least the good ones) were answered all the time? Life would be soooo easy. But what would become of us? Not much, I think. We would become complacent and self satisfied. We would feel no need for striving. We would stagnate. More to the point, given human nature, we would not be likely to fulfill our purposes and grow into the image of God in such an environment. It is through adversity that our character is developed. It is when we are stumbling through the darkness that we learn to seek the light. It is when we are lost in the wilderness that we learn to value home.

Of all the things I have allowed to challenge my faith, unanswered prayer is not one of them. My God is so much bigger than that, and his purposes are so much greater than my comfort, and those purposes as they evolve in each of our lives involve not only ourselves, but those around us and the world at large. The greatest gift, I think, would be having enough understanding of God's purposes to pray in keeping with them. The way Jesus taught us to pray, after all, is for the Father's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. That's enough for me.

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It's a day later, and let me add a little to this. I don't want to make it sound as though I bravely or glibly say, oh, it's okay Lord, you don't have to answer my prayers. If you think my heart is not crushed by my prayers for Michaela not having been answered, you are wrong. It's just that I am able to accept that God has some greater purposes at work here. I can see many of those purposes. I could write a dozen blog entries on that alone. So I know this is true, and I accept it. I still don't know the ultimate way this will all work out, and I hesitate to say too much, not knowing everything there is to know of the beginning and middle, much less the end of things, but my sense is that Michaela has a great part to play for God, and I am along for the ride. As Paul says, "I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." (Romans 8:18, ESV)

But I have my moments when I am just overwhelmed with the sadness, and not mine alone. I know so many, many, many people whose hearts have been shattered by loss. Or no, shattered isn't the right word, because it is a feeling as though your heart has actually swollen to several times its normal size, and it is a heavy, soggy thing bleeding grief into your chest, your stomach, through your arms and your legs so that you feel as though you can't move. I know that feeling well myself, and I feel it again every time I look into the heart of someone else who is suffering. It is part of the journey, this oversized heart. Ultimately, as the grief subsides enough, we are left with a heart that is bigger, with more room in it for others, with more room for God.

A few months ago I began praying for two little boys. One was a preemie named Will, and one was a nine year old boy named Nicholas who had fallen into a coma that lasted for four weeks. Both were in very serious condition, both experienced setbacks, and at times it seemed each was in danger of not making it, or not making it through whole. It was a long season of prayer, and sometimes I felt as though it might be that God was not going to answer. I was brought to tears before the Lord over this, and I begged him, just to show me that he does listen, that he does care, and to show me through smiles on the faces of these two boys, who at that time were not able to smile.

And he granted that prayer. If you go through past posts on Michaela's facebook page, you can see photographs of these boys over time, including pictures of their smiles. They are both out of the hospital now, home with their families. They will each have some lingering problems from their lengthy struggles and need continued prayer. But God has given me the sign I asked for. Their smiles.

I don't want to leave anyone with the impression that God does not answer prayers, because he does. He has many times, dramatically, in my experience. What's more, he has spoken to me so many times, through his word, through his people. Recently I had a song that started playing in my mind, over and over and over, day after day after day. I hummed it, sang out bits of it here and there, listened to it over and over like a distant soundtrack, until finally I got it: "there is no one else for me," the words that God needed from me at that moment in time. These things are continuing reminders of God's presence in our lives, of his patient and nurturing love.

There is one prayer I learned from my pastor that will always be answered ... "Lord, you know I love you. But you know I can be a knucklehead. So I just ask you, please, never let me go." That is a prayer that is always within the will of God, to which the answer is always yes. That is my prayer, no matter what.

Here is a link to Will's story, by the way, if you want to experience what I experienced during those months of praying for this little guy. It was written by his dad on a website he is creating to assist others with premature babies. http://www.nicu-companion.com/index.php?r=site/preemiebrowse