When Prayers Go Unanswered
“I am so tired of unanswered prayers!” the person wrote to us. “One was almost a yes, we were SO excited, then at the very last minute it was a crushing NO! More tears and heartache! I give up on praying! Thanks for trying!”
My heart goes out to her or him, whoever it is. All those exclamation points. All that misery. All that heartache. Crushing despair hovers around that NO! in all caps.
It would be nice to say, “It’s going to be okay. God’s going to answer those prayers. I’m sure of it. Hold on a bit longer. Don’t give up. It’s always darkest before the dawn.”
But when you’re in such pain it’s very hard to hear any reassuring promises; you’re deaf to advice; you’re blind to help; you can’t see anything beyond the misery in front of you, blocking your way.
I can only reply with a prayer of my own: God, don’t let her stop asking. Keep her typing those emails. Let her be angry. Let her rage at you, as I have raged at you at times. But give her hope. Restore her faith. Give her the reassurance and comfort she deserves. Please.
Of course I have had prayers that have gone unanswered. When you commit yourself to praying, you are sure to wind up in some cul-de-sacs of loss and confusion, asking yourself, Are you there, God?
Jesus’ last prayer in his earthly life seemed to have gone horribly unanswered. Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani, he prayed on the cross, a phrase so important it is quoted in the original Aramaic in the Bible and translated, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
Maybe the point of that desperate moment is that Jesus did speak. He didn’t stop praying until the breath went out of him and he died.
People who are cleverer than I will say that yes, God answers all prayer. He says either Yes, No or Wait. Or I’ve even heard a New York version of this: His answers are Yes, No and Fuhgeddaboutit!
Some will take a theological high road and tell you, “God is not answering your prayer because he wants to teach you something.” Maybe. Maybe not. But the pain of an unanswered prayer is still there.
I tend to just bury the unanswered prayers, trying to forget about them until the pain goes away.
And yet, the people I admire most, my spiritual models and mentors, keep on praying through it all, persevering, hoping against hope, arming themselves with words that seem impossible.
And so for this person who has given up, I would like to be that person who hasn’t given up. Thank you for writing. Sorry. We are going to keep trying. And trying. And trying. And trying. And trying. And praying for you. Until we greet the sunrise of an Easter morning and an empty tomb.
That’s what praying people do.