If there’s one thing that can be said of many Christians, is that we hate tension. Now some are more comfortable with it than others. But on the flip side, a disdain for tension can drive us into Cliche Land, where we resolve the tension with trite, but unfortunately not well thought out, sayings. One prime example of this is “God always answers prayers – yes, no or maybe”.
Now, what is typically meant by this is that you will either 1) get the answer you were expecting; 2) get the opposite answer with a denial or 3) Get a maybe…Stop! Would a maybe be the same thing as not knowing?
And that’s exactly why such a response to someone wrestling with unanswered prayers is not helpful. The reality is that until we know definitively, there is a period of time for which we have no idea what that answer will be. I actually think that “no” is not really an answer either, as I wrote about here. But as for the not knowing, I am often reminded, both in my own struggles with unanswered prayers and hearing of other accounts of the not knowing, that such a period can extend for a really long time. It’s a long time of waiting…a long time of hoping…a long time of discouragement…a long time of not knowing. Nothing will trivialize that struggle more than someone saying, God always answers prayer, with yes, no or maybe. Would you tell that to the childless woman who wants nothing more to be a mom and has suffered multiple miscarriages? Or to the parent with the wayward child who has drifted away for years? It’s kind of insulting when you think about it.
I’ve been reading through this book A Praying Life by Paul Miller as part of the discipleship group that I recently joined. The author has one daughter who is autistic and for 25 years of her life, was also mute. Aside from dealing with the struggles that result from taking care of a special needs child, the mom’s added burden was that she prayed and prayed for her daughter to speak. The author captured the heartbreak that went into the silence of God that really resonated with me, especially in this snippet from his wife’s journal;
I’m now 32 – oh dear! I wonder what this year will bring. Maybe Kim talking! It has been very hard for me not seeing much progress in Kim. We are in the middle of being evaluated again at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. It’s so hard to tell what she can’t do or just won’t do. All of this is so hard…hard to see and still believe Jesus loves her and me and hears me beg for her continual healing. It really is faith that is at stake – the suffering is really a side issue. Just to tell Jesus what I need and leave it with him is such a struggle – especially as I see Kim struggle daily. It really breaks my heart.
How helpful do you think “God always answers prayers” would be to a broken-hearted woman who is praying for her very faith? Not one bit.
Eventually, Kim did speak but not until she was 25. For over 20 years, this mother prayed and didn’t know if what she prayed would come to pass. That’s a really, really long time of praying, struggling and not knowing.
Perhaps we can drive a stake in the heart of this trite saying and replace with words that are more faithful to Scripture and the circumstances. Perhaps the better encouragement would be to tell the person struggling with unanswered prayers that God hears, he knows and he cares. He’s working out something that we can’t even imagine though we have no idea what that is right now. It is sanctifying though we can’t really see that clearly right now. Though the waiting is tough, lean on Christ. For in the midst of an extended period of prickling thorns, we learn the sufficiency of God’s grace and his faithfulness in the midst of a dry and barren desert.