Mis-Answered Prayer

Mis-Answered Prayer

“Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!” Psalm 4:1

My friend’s brother died Sunday. He was fighting cancer. He very suddenly lost the battle. I am shaken by the news because I love my friend and I have prayed for her brother for several years. His passing reiterates to me the brokenness of this world and the tremendous pain that results from the sting of death. I also wonder why God allowed him to die when I was so hopeful he would live. While I stand seemingly helpless to mitigate her grief, I wish for nothing more than the ability to lift it from her, even though I know my shoulders are not strong enough to carry the weight.

This past weekend we made a trip to Washington, Missouri to visit with our family and celebrate Christmas. We took a shortcut on the way out through several small towns and enjoyed the sunshiny scenery. Furry cows, adorned with their winter coats, and cozy country homes with smoke billowing from chimneys made for a peaceful drive. We all stopped fighting for a few minutes (I have boys who love to torture and maim each other) and relaxed.

St. Paul’s Lutheran Church

We passed through New Melle, Missouri and pondered. What would it be like to live in a small town? Everything looks so peaceful when one is driving through. Our mouths watered when we saw the Bavarian Smokehouse, and we marveled at the architecture of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. We openly wondered about the sturdy hands that build the structure in 1860. What love and care they put into assembling the limestone bricks that contribute to the character of the building. As we passed out of town, we enjoyed the natural setting. The clusters of spindly trees surrounding homes well beyond our price range filled us with reverence and a bit of envy. Still, it enabled us to dream a bit, not unlike the window shopper who peruses the storefront, looking eagerly through the frosty windows and wondering how we would feel to slip on that luxurious mink coat.

But everything was different on the drive home in the dark. Drunk with the splendor of a rich meal in our bellies and the afterglow of family togetherness, we missed one of our turns. Suddenly that friendly stretch of highway was an inhospitable wilderness. We scrambled to pull up Google maps to help us reorient the direction in which we were actually meant to travel. The shoulderless stretch of road suddenly erupted with a bevy of vehicles the moment we pulled over. We anxiously turned and hoped and prayed that we would get back on the right route. It was cold, foreign, and incredibly dark.

Gone were the friendly homes, the enchanted woodlands and the sweet smelling eateries. Instead our imaginations were fraught with hobgoblins, ghouls and the idea that we could break down and get stranded in the middle of nowhere with no cell service. Then, to add to our misery, a small bladder screamed to be emptied and the spooky night was encumbered by an impending sense of urgency. My husband’s foot pressed on the gas pedal and I found myself holding onto a hand grip as we hugged a sharp turn. I hoped and I prayed, but I was also scared. First, that we could crash, and second, that my child would spill his bladder all over the back seat of my car. Strange how the absence of light created such a difference in our perspective, and all because the earth shifts in its trajectory around the sun for a few hours.

I could have prayed for the sun to come back out, even though it was only 6:00pm. I could have prayed for my son’s bladder to stop throbbing and empty without fouling the upholstery of my car. I could even have prayed for my husband to listen to reason and pull over at a gas station, even though the sun coming back out was a more likely scenario. Alas, all I could do was hold on for the ride and whimper inaudibly.

I guess what I am trying to say by writing those things is that my prayers are often unreasonable in the grand scope of what God is doing. I wanted my friend’s brother to live and be cured of cancer. He was not. God has a reason for this that I cannot possibly understand. And while I feel it is unfair, I can also concede that He is in every way wiser than myself and knows immensely better than I do about every single aspect of His creation. How can I do this? Because I trust Him. Why? Because I know how much He loves me.

When I consider my thoughts and the darkness of that ride, I think they are not unlike my thoughts when encompassed by the shadow of death. All light is eclipsed. And worse, the thick cloud of sorrow is like an airless shroud over my all-too-fragile human heart. Were I to poke at it with my fumbling fingers, I could not lift or tear it. Instead I am left to smother and sweat and sob. The absence of light is at the very least, discomforting, and were I to exclusively focus on that, I would die for lack of hope. That is what death tempts us to do; despair. It was at the heart of Satan’s temptation to Eve; separate us from the light by trickery and then laugh while we gasp, wail and moan in darkness.

If we allow ourselves to be separated from God by rejecting his light, we will all die in darkness. But God demonstrated His deep and abiding love for us by sending His son to pierce the darkness forever. Jesus Christ has conquered the grave. It is the only hope I have in the midst of my sadness over the death of my friend’s brother.

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” I Corinthians 15:55

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” I Corinthians 15-56-57

Our response to death is important, as it is to every instance of adversity we face. We can wish the pain away. We can pretend it is not happening. We can even try to anesthetize it. We can even throw unreasonable prayers at it but—and this is important—only God can heal it forever.

I remember when I read about the tragic death of Stephen Curtis Chapman’s young daughter, Maria Sue Chapman. I wondered how he would respond in the face of such a devastating loss. I am encouraged to read that he is still walking with his Savior. The path has not been an easy one, but his faith in God has sustained him.

Dear reader, if you have suffered tremendous loss today, reach out and take His hand. Cling not to your feelings. Cling not to your hopeful wishes. Cling not to your own understanding of the situation. Cling to the God who (quite unreasonably) left the throne room of Heaven to walk on earth and die an agonizing death, carrying the weight of your sin so that He could enjoy fellowship with you forever. When we are faithless, He remains faithful. We are precious in His sight and never without hope.

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not comprehended it.

As we drove somewhat blindly through that dark and winding road on Saturday evening, I looked out across a field and saw a home whose roof was illuminated with bright white lights shining out into the darkness. In the center of the roof was a bright white cross.

“Look, Mom!” My children cried. “Look at that!”

I said, “I see it.” And I marveled.

The cross shines brightest in the darkness of night. We are not abandoned. We are not without hope. When shrouded by the darkest of moments, remember this truth and rejoice!


  1. I love the picture of the children and their guardian angel. I remember buying an inexpensive print of it for your bedroom when you were small. When my mother saw it she smiled and told me it had also been in my room when I was a child. I didn’t remember anything about it except it was a familiar, comforting vision. I think each generation needs that kindly reminder of God’s loving, protective presence.

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