A couple years ago we were visiting my husband’s parents for the weekend. Lee (my husband) and David (our older, typical son) were asleep in one bedroom and in the other room, I was crying out to God, begging for Him to answer my prayer.
All I wanted was for James to sleep. It was 3:00 am and James was happily playing, after falling asleep in the car from 8-10 pm and then deciding he didn’t want to sleep anymore.
“Why won’t you just give us sleep, God? I’m not asking for anything hard. If we sleep, it isn’t going to change anything for anyone else on the planet but us. And it will be a good change! I’ll be a better wife, mom, and daughter-in-law if you let me sleep!”
Because it was 3:00 am and we were visiting my in-laws and life was just hard in general, I got right to the point with God, “You gave me a son with autism and I do my best each day for him and all of us. All I ask for is sleep. If You can’t even do this, what can You do?”
And that gets to the truth that every special-needs parent is carrying around. We are praying prayers that God isn’t answering. And I’m sure that’s true for everyone, but I experience it every day. I pray for James’s healing and it doesn’t happen.
Of course, God is answering every prayer we pray in His wisdom and sovereignty. I know that. But I don’t always feel it. When I go to bed each night with one prayer on my mind and wake up the next morning with it feeling unanswered, how do I cope? How do I continue to trust, love, and worship?
The atheist points to suffering in this world as proof there is no God. If God exists, then suffering shouldn’t. But Christians see God even in suffering. In sickness and pain. In unanswered prayers.
“But please, please—won’t you—can’t you give me something that will cure Mother?’
Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.
“My son, my son,” said Aslan. “I know. Grief is great.”
― C.S. Lewis,
God is not absent when we suffer. He’s with us. He suffers with us. But His goals are not our goals. My prayers for James are mostly for his life (and therefor our lives) to be easier. For sleep. For eating. For talking. For potty training. But God’s goals are for our lives to be holier. For love. For sacrifice. For grace.
I’m from Oklahoma, where we love Garth Brooks only slightly less than God and football. So even though it isn’t fully developed theology, I can agree with the sentiment behind Garth’s hit song, “Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers.”
How does Philippians 4:6-7 say God will answer “every prayer and supplication”? Not with exactly what we ask for, but with peace. Peace that surpasses all understanding. Peace that will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
God doesn’t always say yes to sleep. He doesn’t always say yes to healing. He doesn’t always say yes to $100 more in the bank account or success in everything we attempt to do. He says yes to peace. The peace that comes from trusting in Him.