Thursday, November 27, 2014

Sometimes the Answer is "No"

It is a tenet of my faith that God answers prayers.  This is something I believe with all of my heart, a belief bolstered by the many times that God has answered my own prayers, in ways that were - to me - put the reality of those answers beyond question.

However - and this is hard for many Christians to accept, as I've seen for myself - sometimes the answer to that prayer is "no."  When you're asking for something that is outside of God's will and plan for your life, God doesn't ignore that prayer, but He might just answer by saying "no." 
 God doesn't ignore that prayer, but He might just answer by saying "no"

In other blogs I've written here, I have talked about how God said "no" to Jonah (I'm not confused here - this is not about how Jonah said "no" to God). After Jonah realized that he really did need to follow God's command, he went to Nineveh where he preached doom.  To his surprise and disappointment, the people and the king of Nineveh did hear Jonah, and believed in what he was preaching, and repented.  Real sack-cloth and ashes time, honest and meaningful repentance.  God heard their groans of anguish, saw the true repentance in their hearts, and spared Nineveh the doom Jonah had foretold.

Jonah, whose people (the Israelites) considered Nineveh their sworn enemy, had looked forward to God's judgment. When it didn't come, he prayed to God to follow up on that promise, to smite the Ninevites.  God heard Jonah's prayer, but the answer he gave Jonah was a resounding "no."  Even though Jonah had (admittedly, reluctantly) done as God had commanded, and even though Jonah was indeed a prophet of God, God heard his prayer, but told him "no."
God heard Jonah's prayer, but God told him "no"

Which brings me to a very personal side of this issue, personal for me.  In 2007, eight years after our son had died in a one-car accident in September, 1999, my wife Karol was going through unimaginably deep suffering because of that loss.  Many years earlier, she'd lost a son who was born with profound, unsurvivable birth defects.  Following his inevitable death, she had never been able to properly grieve, and that loss festered in her soul.  Then nearly 20 years later, our son died in that awful crash.  Once again, she had been unable to properly grieve, and that loss, too, festered.  Even worse, the two boys' birthdays - and the anniversaries of their deaths - came very close together in calendar terms.

Each year from July through September, Karol went through an anguish that had to be seen to be believed.  This year, for reasons not clear, the suffering seemed to be worse.  Despairing of what I could do for her, I turned to God, and prayer.  Using the Psalms as my focal point - especially the ones in which David cried out to a God he felt had forsaken him - I prayed as I had never done before.  My prayers were daily events, often lasting hours, and filled with all the power of the emotions I was feeling.  And I asked others to pray for her as well - online prayer groups, our local church, friends - and those efforts were not in vain. People did pray for Karol.
People did pray for Karol

Still, her crisis seemed to deepen.  I knew God was listening - He had always listened to my prayers, and had often answered them in ways nothing short of miraculous - yet things only got worse for her.

Finally, I thought there was a change. She seemed more at peace, and things seemed to be returning to normal. We made plans to do things we enjoyed - something we hadn't done in weeks, perhaps months.  She even asked me to go to the store (at her request, and by my own choice, I had literally not left the house for a week - both of us were unwilling for me to leave her alone), so - feeling things had turned a corner, I went to the store to restock on groceries. 
Yet something didn't feel right

Yet something didn't feel right - I felt deeply that something was wrong, but I didn't know what.  I tried to call her, but she didn't answer, and for some reason, my blood ran cold.  I raced home, only to find the bedroom door locked.  It took me five minutes to disassemble the lock, and when I came in, I found Karol dead on the floor.

I called the police, who treated me like a murderer (no surprise there, and not really part of this story). More importantly, I called our priest.  She interrupted her vacation to rush to our home - to say last rites over Karol - and later she told me that she'd felt no evil there, that Karol was now finally at peace, a peace she had been unable to find in this life.
Karol was now finally at peace, a peace she had been unable to find in this life
I had prayed to God to help Karol find peace - in this life - but His answer was "no." 

That was hard for me to accept, and I "took' a vacation from God" as I came to terms with it.  I didn't stop believing in God, and I wasn't angry at God or filled with blame for Him.  Still, I needed to step back and come to terms with this, and God was gracious in letting me know that this was just fine with Him.

In mulling over what happened, I came to believe that His ultimate answer to my prayer was "yes, but on My terms" - Karol found peace she was so desperate to find - not in this life, though, but in the next life.

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