Please Note: I originally wrote this as a guest post on another blog in February of 2018. Reposting now for my own site. Though much has changed, life is still confusing and difficult more often than it’s not. I think of this post often and my prayers frequently include even if.
Don’t you love stories of miracles and how God answers prayer? If that’s the type of article you are looking for, I must apologize because this is not that.. In my life, I seem to get a lot less of the miracles and a lot more of God answering not in the way I want, His silence, or His flat ‘no’s’.
So, what do you do when God doesn’t answer your prayers?
Not the Right Answer
A few years ago, my husband hurt his back to the point that he couldn’t work and could barely move. We were praying for him to be healed, but the prospects didn’t look good medically-speaking. No treatment came with any kind of guarantee. After multiple doctors and physical therapists, it looked like his best option was surgery—not exactly the answer we were looking for. However, seeing it as his only medical option, he had the surgery. Before he made it out of the hospital, the disc in his back re-herniated, with this time being worse than the first. Two weeks later, he underwent a second back surgery.
Throughout this experience, came the questions: Even if my prayer for my husband’s healing wasn’t answered the way I want it to be… Even if he isn’t able to work… Even if that vow ‘for better or worse,’ has a lot more of the worse than the better… Will that make a difference in my faith? Will I still believe?
After a very difficult year, my husband and I sold our house. The problem was that it sold faster than we anticipated, and we didn’t have anywhere to move to. We found a house that we loved, we prayed about it and felt that this was the house God had for us. Then we put an offer on it, and it was rejected. Suddenly, we were very confused. We had really thought this was our house, so why hadn’t things worked out? Shouldn’t God had paved the way for our footsteps if He was directing?
A common idea is that God’s will is a smooth path lined with roses, when in the Bible, there are countless examples of the opposite. While I struggled with this idea, I also wanted a “for sure” answer. So I prayed and prayed. And fasted. And prayed some more. I wasn’t praying that we’d get the house. I was praying that God would in some way answer—that He would speak in a clear way that let us know what direction we should go. I agonized. I begged. I just needed something from Him.
And what I got…. was nothing. Seriously, you could have heard crickets chirping in the vast void of God’s silence.
And I was a little ticked. I mean, it didn’t seem like a big request to have the God of the universe blink once for ‘yes,’ and twice for ‘no.’
It may not seem a big faith test, but it was. And I was again faced with the question. Even if God stayed on mute and didn’t ever answer my question, would that make a difference in my faith—would I still believe?
Last Fall, I was expecting our fourth child. We’d had a nightmarish year that had included my husband’s diagnosis, surgery, and treatment of thryroid cancer, unexpected hospital stays for our children, and unbelievable ‘bad luck.’ But now, with a baby on the way, we were so very excited that something good was going to happen!
But at twelve weeks, I started to lose the baby. I lay in bed in excruciating pain and begged God to let my baby live.
How would I explain to my three other children that they weren’t going to have a baby? How would I handle it, knowing my sister, who also was pregnant and due at the same time, got to keep her baby and I didn’t? What if this was it, and I never had another baby? I love my three boys to an indescribable degree, but I’ve always had the dream of a daughter. What if God never granted that desire?
And through all the questions and pain whirling through my mind, came the question… Even if?
Even if my baby died. Even if all of those questions were answered with God’s ‘no,’ would that make a difference in my faith—would I still believe?
The answer to all of the questions is ‘no.’ Even if my prayers are not answered in the way I want. Even if all I hear is God’s silence. Even if He says ‘no,’ lets my baby die, and never gives me another…
It will not make a difference in my faith. I will still believe. Even if.
Why? Because my personal experience does not change who God is. His existence is not determined by if e answers my prayers. In fact, His existence is not determined by me or whether or not I believe.
It’s kind of like how a baby discovers object permanence. Does an object exist even if I can’t see it? Even if my worst nightmare comes true and He doesn’t answer the way I want, even if I can’t see Him, even if He tells me ‘no,’ that doesn’t change who He is. I believe, not because of my experience, but because He is.
I believe He is still there, I believe He is still good (Psalm 100:5), and I believe He has a plan for my life (Psalm 139, Romans 8:28), whether or not I can hear or see it at an individual moment. Why? Because His Word tells me those things about Him, and I have to believe object permanence applies to God too.Even if I can’t see those things at a given time, that in no way determines their existence.
I think we don’t get the “right” answer a lot in regards to health issues. Instead of the healing we pray for, we get surgery or medical treatment. And sometimes we just get strength to make it through the day. In regards to my husband, he recovered well from the second surgery, though it is unlikely the nerve damage will ever be completely repaired. Thankfully, he was able to eventually return to work and life settled into a resemblance of normal.
In this instance, unlike many of the others in my life, I was able to see a glimpse of God’s purpose behind His seeming inadequate answer. During the time that my husband was hurt, I wrote and published my first book. Had I not had the stressful question of not knowing if he would ever work again, I might not have ever had the motivation to do what I love and what has become a wonderful career. Fourteen books later, I am beyond thankful that I get to share exciting stories of unique characters that somehow manage to echo my own walk with God.
We bought the house. It was not easy. At no time did we ever feel the certain answer we desired, but we made the wisest decision we could. We paid more than our initial offer, and there was no shortage of stress and drama, but we eventually had an offer accepted.
It still seems like God could have eased my anxiety some and just given me an answer. But I’ve come to realize my peace of mind might have been a small price to pay for a silence that might somehow build my faith. If we were already on the path of His Will, why would He need to confirm that? Instead, I lived out an ‘even if,’ and realized that in God’s silence, I still believe.
Our baby died. It was a nightmare that I still cannot think about without crying. After the horrible pain of miscarriage and surgery, I was left completely empty, experiencing an ‘even if’ I would never wish on anyone. God said ‘no.’
Nine months later, my arms are still empty and there is little hope that they will be filled again. And yet, God’s ‘no’ doesn’t change that even in this, I still believe.
Prayers are often not answered, and more often than not, we don’t know the reason why this side of heaven. But the bad things that happen don’t change who God is. I don’t know why some things happen, but I do know God is good and He has a purpose in all my even ifs.
Everyone has struggles. No one gets through life unscathed. For those of you who are living through an ‘even if,’ take heart: God still is. He loves you and has a purpose for you and all your tears. So I pose a question to you: Even if… ?
For me, my even ifs have not made a difference in my faith, but my prayer is that they will make a difference in yours.
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.