We prayed. We petitioned. We cried out for a miracle. We trusted God was big enough, strong enough, and good enough to heal. We knew His promises, were trained in his faithfulness and depended on His mercy. But healing didn’t come; death did, at least in the finite, earthly, temporal form.
I sometimes think that God gets it wrong. He doesn’t answer some of our most heart-felt, guttural, vulnerable prayers. Prayers that cut to our core, ones that rip us of our pride and groans that step us out into an area of trust we haven’t ventured before. Time goes by and our trust wavers, when the slow decay of our loved one’s body shows the unmistakable marks of impending finality or when our dream fades far from reality.
Where is God when He says no? What is His plan when we don’t see the good in our circumstances? Can we truly say He is good and holy when our life is crumpling and the pain is unbearable? Is he just, fair even? Does he really love me? Sometimes it seems like prayer doesn’t work, that it has no purpose and yields no response. I get tempted to just give in and quit asking, especially when it comes to the deepest longings of my heart.
My very first time praying to God occurred five years after realizing and accepting the fact that I needed a Savior. My dear friend, Katie, was skiing with her family when she had a sudden heart attack and slipped into a coma. For three days she teetered between death and life, unsure of what lay ahead for her life. Three of us friends huddled around a living room ottoman in North Texas, crying out to God on Katie’s behalf. Spare her life God! Deliver her! Heal her heart, Lord, a heart that loved people with genuine compassion and grace! Save her parents, siblings and friends from enduring the agony of her death! But… Katie died. She didn’t see the end of 8th grade like the rest of us. Her numbered days were done. My first time praying ended in death, disappointment and despair. God answered wrong.
A lot of life has happened in the 20 years that followed that prayer. Ups and downs, twists and turns all have played out with a kind of melodic rhythm through the years. Mostly good moments have come, however some days have been sprinkled with pain or besieged by war wounds. My journal is wrought with testimony of prayers answered, people healed, souls saved and God’s faithfulness through trials of many kinds. God has proven to me that He can be trusted. I can depend on Him to hear me, to love me so much that He finds joy in me reaching out to Him in prayer. I know to my core that He is good. He has walked me through so much and a deep, unwavering trust in His word has been cultivated in my heart.Then something happened…
Almost 20 years to the day of Katie’s death, I found myself huddled around a hospital bed, praying the same prayer I first lifted up to God. Spare her! Deliver her! Grant her life to the full for years to come! This time the prayers were for my mother, who had just been told she only had months to live. My world shook. My faith quivered. My soul ached for a different answer this time. But…Mom died. She won’t get to see her grand kids grow up like most of her friends will. Her numbered days were done. However, something was different this time. I know God more intimately, and I trust His character and His heart for me. Even amidst this pain, I could still sing praises to the One who answered wrong.
God created us to be in communication with him, knowing full well that sometimes we just won’t understand His plan. We call him a liar, a swindler, thinking He asks much of us but does not deliver the life of blessing we feel He promised. We feel cheated, and we give up. We doubt His character, or we feel like His hope for our future doesn’t apply to us. In these moments when God answers wrong, we come to an impasse of having to make a decision on what we believe. Do we believe God is truly who He says He is? Do we believe He is really all-knowing, never-changing and glorious in His wisdom? Do we believe God is worthy of all praise no matter what? Is He really merciful, are His ways always good? Do we believe that He really loves us?
From Katie to Mom I can honestly answer YES. YES, He is who he claims to be. YES, He hears my pleas.YES, He collects my tears in a bottle, not one falling without his knowledge or care. Furthermore, I have come to have a more accurate view of myself. NO, I am not omniscient. NO, I don’t see the span of eternity.NO, I can’t know what is best for every living person on this earth. NO, I don’t chose when people die or what my future looks like. BUT, I do get to trust. I get to lift my requests up to Him, the only One who has the power and authority to set up and dispose kings, to heal the sick and save the lost. I get to choose joy when my circumstances feel chaotic and out of control. I get to rest knowing God will never leave me, even when He sometimes feels far away.
I can say that for Katie and for Mom, healing came in a more perfect form than I could have ever prayed. They are complete and whole, lacking in nothing. They are delivered, free from pain, anxiety and worry. They sit at the foot of the Savior they proclaimed and loved . It wasn’t what we wanted. Our hearts yearn and break in a way we never knew possible, missing their company and the unmet dreams for their lives cut short. We don’t know how to walk forward without them. We wonder if joy will ever be our companion again. But through this questioning, God’s word stands firm. My hope can be secure in Jesus’ death on the cross, not just for heaven but for the mess of this life on earth too. I trust God knows how to heal and restore my soul. He sees me and understands my questions and my pain. And He will, in time, bring His joy.
My prayer is that as God heals my heart, He will use my journey to bring healing to others who are hurt and broken just like me.
Even when God answers wrong…We have FAITH that He is good.