The Problem of [Un]Answered Prayer

When it’s not your kid you can think of all kinds of lofty, theologically correct arguments or reasons for why God answers one prayer and not another–for why one person is healed and not another–for why one person survives a devastating-should-have-killed-him accident but not another.

But when it is your child that doesn’t survive or isn’t healed or is stolen through the violent actions of someone else…well, that’s a different matter entirely.

I prayed every day for my children.  I asked God to protect them, to give them wisdom, to draw them to Himself and to guide their steps.

I never thought I was “giving orders” to God, but I did expect that my prayers would be honored-that by praying in obedience to biblical commands and in accord with scriptural principles I was making a difference in the heavenlies.

Like Daniel, who received word that his prayers had helped Gabriel fight against the prince of the air opposing him, I sent my petitions as weapons and armor against any schemes of the evil one  that might threaten to undo my family. (Daniel 10: 1-13)

Herein lies the problem:   when things go well, when the job comes through, the test score is great and the person walks out of the hospital, healed and whole, we say, “God answered prayers.”

And I believe that He does.

But if we ascribe glory and praise and honor and thanksgiving for the blessings received, how are we to understand and talk about the ones denied?

The nation of Israel was looking for Messiah-expecting Him.

Yet when He came, most missed Him.  They had decided for themselves what He would look like, what He would do and how He would rescue them from bondage.

God’s ways are inscrutable.

I’m not arguing that prayer doesn’t matter.

It does.

I am commanded to pray. And God’s faithfulness to answer prayer is documented from Genesis through Revelation.

But I would argue that the way we speak about prayer, as if we understand how it works and how God works in it and through it, is often unhelpful.

The book of Job pulls back the curtain on what was happening in the heavenlies when God allowed Satan access to Job’s life.  We know that Job’s earthly suffering represented a testimony for God against the Accuser.

But there’s no evidence that Job ever knew.

There was no dramatic revelation by God to this man that had lost EVERYTHING except his own life (which he would have gladly given up) and his wife (who, it seems, went on to bear him more children-oh joy!). Instead, God confronts Job with questions, not answers.

My heart wants answers, not more questions.

I doubt that I will have them this side of heaven.

So I have decided to speak more honestly about my experience with prayer, to refuse to pretend I understand how it works any more than I understand how God breathes life into bodies or takes souls to heaven.

I will pray, as best I can-mostly recalling God’s own words to Him-and resist my desire to think that because I pray, I can direct His hand.

When Jesus was in agony at Gethsemene, He asked His Father to take the bitter cup from HIm, but in the end, submitted to God’s will and plan.

That is all I have left for me as well-to submit and be made into whatever God has ordained.

I will trust in the goodness and faithful love of my Heavenly Father, because He IS my Father.

I will lean into His heart even when I cannot see or understand the work of His hands and follow because He is the One Who will lead me Home.

he is faithful who has promised

Author: Melanie

I am a shepherd, wife and mother of four amazing children, three that walk the earth with me and one who lives with Jesus. This is a record of my grief journey and a look into the life I didn't choose. If you are interested in joining a community of bereaved parents leaning on the promises of God in Christ, please like the public Facebook page, "Heartache and Hope: Life After Losing a Child" and join the conversation.

25 thoughts on “The Problem of [Un]Answered Prayer”

  1. Melanie,
    DITTO! Ive taken a break from my prayer life the moment we found out my second son died. Just need a break. Yep, God is remolding me how He wants. and He is gong to do what he wants so I give in to Him. I too, don’t know how to pray anymore. Im afraid to ask for anything, so I dont. He knows where I am, Im still have faith although confused. Im trying not to ask to many questions because there are no answers, here on earth.
    Interestingly I got news yesterday that my niece baby t two months old will be going thru chemo and hasted for prayers. So Im praying for this precious little one. DO I pray for healing? DO I pray for Gods will? Do I pray for my boys to help? They may be SO happy that they want here up there! SO Im not sure how to do it anymore but Im trying.
    THANKYOU for this post! Super helpful, just a day after I told you it was ok to take a break because you sounded overwhelmed!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your words. They have helped me. I lost my son at the age of 34 3 yrs ago next month. I am having a lot of trouble with this upcoming anniversary. Steven had had emotional problems for years before he just couldn’t couldn’t take it anymore. I had prayed for years for him to be healed. But God chose to allow him to opt to leave this world instead. I was so angry at God who in my heart I had called Abba & trusted my sweet boy with. I felt so betrayed. It is so hard to pray now. So I usually don’t. It seems harder this upcoming anniversary than the 2nd one but I am beginning to try to reach for God & hope he will forgive my angry reaction. I am rambling but I wanted to thank you for sharing your hurt because much of what you felt I feel & somehow that is a comfort. Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thousands of people (literally. Around the world) were praying for my son as he battled cancer. I was thinking this morning, “Apparently quantity doesn’t make a difference. God’s going to do what he’s going to do….” Still struggling with this. Thank you for your Real Words.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for your transparency and for being willing to turn Christianity on its ear. I feel like I learn more and get more honest, in- the- trenches real Christianity from your posts than from many sermons. We (Christians in general) really have a lot of theology wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Unanswered prayers have been one of my greatest struggles since losing my son Noah over 2 years ago and I still struggle to pray now. When I write it here it sounds almost irrational, but since I feel my prayers weren’t answered for my son as he struggled with drug addiction, I have this sense of fear as I pray for others I love that they will be taken from me too. It’s comforting to know I’m not the only one who struggles and I look forward to what you have to say about this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kim, our 34 year old daughter Karolyn died due to SUD. Her addictions led her and us on a dark journey. I too prayed for both our daughters from the time of their births. And much more intensely during her years of addiction. I know from scripture he is a God of miracles but I’m so sad he didn’t allow Karolyn to be healed. I too struggle when people pray for protection for their loved ones thinking “I hope he answers for you but he didn’t in the way I wanted”. In the end, it’s been 1 year now I see he rescued her from further pain. And he is with me as we struggle with her loss. We are also raising her 10 year old daughter who has low vision (legally blind) and on the autism spectrum. Some days are so hard yet I know our time on earth is short and we will be reunited in heaven for an eternity of no more tears, sorrow or pain. Maranatha.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Melanie, as always I appreciate and identify with your honesty and the things you wrestle with. This has been one of the hardest for me. There were literally thousands of people praying for Kari-Lee all over the world, praying for her healing. People who didn’t even know us would come to the hospital saying God had told them to come and pray with/for her and that she WOULD be healed. Because she was born with cystic fibrosis, Kari dying young was something God and I had had lots of talks about. I believed I had worked though it and the topic of healing and I’d come to a place of “acceptance” (while hating what that meant). Many many people had been praying for her healing since her diagnosis at 6 weeks of age. All this to say that I believed God COULD heal her, but not necessarily that He WOULD.
    That is, until those last two months where it was literally a battle for her life. I became “sucked in” if you will, to the belief that if I prayed with enough faith etc and totally believed it with no doubt, she would be healed. This is a teaching I had never previously subscribed to, yet when I was desperate, I found plenty of Bible verses that backed it up.
    When she died, I was not just devastated that she was gone, but that God had not “come through” with what I had believed. I really wrestled with this for months. Initially, I wasn’t sure I could trust God again. After some time and reading some sound books written by Christians who had lost children as well as Randy Alcorn books on Heaven, I came to a place of trusting God again. However, prayer remains difficult, especially when others ask me to pray for healing or protection etc . I too wonder if people realise it’s not a magic formula.
    Recently I’ve been battling with the topic again as my Bible Study leader has had a miraculous transformation in her entire family since going to a Christian counsellor. This person has taught her that healing is blocked through jnforgiveness and each of her seven children has miraculously come back to the Lord though this ministry. Therefore she believes this is what is needed for healing – understandable. However what she implies then is that Kari wasn’t healed because of unforgiveness. I was at her house recently and another mutual friend was there, who struggles with RA, something I know you understand only too well. She has been to the same counsellor and from the conversation it appears that she teaches that the spiritual root of RA is not liking yourself. She told me she is now being healed (and she did look very well) through learning to love herself as God does.
    I just want to say to these dear friends LIFE IS NOT THAT SIMPLE!! There is more to God’s plans than do “a” and get “b”.
    Anyway….. sorry for this long long waffle. I just wanted to say thank you so much for not backing down from the ha4 hard questions that we all have. I do so appreciate you sharing as you wrestle. I truly hope I get to meet you some day – in Heaven, if not in this life. I think we’d have so much to talk about.
    May God bless you and your ministry as you continue seeking and sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rhyl,
      I too lost my precious son Hunter to Cystic Fibrosis 11 months ago. I am struggling today with why didn’t God heal him on THIS side of heaven?? I have learned through this that our understanding of God is so minimal and we are not him and therefore I must accept his sovereignty in all things or drive myself crazy fighting him. Using scriptures how I take them and not how they are. We see only the people that were healed in the Bible but not all the thousands that weren’t. I know God touched my son in the hospital a year ago today and gave us 41 more priceless days with him. Why he didn’t heal him forever? I’ll never know until I see him again in heaven. This I do know… God loves me and God loves Hunter and maybe this is how Hunter chose his prayer to be answered or maybe it’s like Melanie says… we wouldn’t be very interested in a God we could easily understand or figure out. This pain is the most gut wrenching awful thing I have ever experienced but in it and through it I choose to love God and trust him and thank him that I had the 22 1/2 years I did with our sweet Hunter. I count on God to carry me as I walk these horrible steps I must travel. I miss my son so bad today but I know for a fact he is in heaven with our father because one year ago today I got to pray with and lead my son in a re-dedication prayer where he made Jesus lord of his life after straying away. I at can rejoice in that and nothing can take that away from me. Hugs to all mommas living out our brokenness and I will be praying for y’all.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for this article. I am a woman of strong faith and this “unanswered prayer” issue has shaken my trust in prayer. It has not shaken my trust in God, and I still pray for others’ needs, but I struggle when praying for my family. I prayed for the safety of my children from the day our daughter came into our lives 24 years ago. My son died 17 months ago at the age of 18. I have come to the conclusion that the Lord and I have different definitions of what the word safe means. Obviously, Joe is in the safest place he could be, in the arms of our Lord. I am still trying to sort out my loss of trust in answered prayers. God knew exactly what I meant when I prayed for the safety of my children. He isn’t going to split hairs because I didn’t spell it out. He knows my heart. He and I converse daily on the topic of my lost trust in prayer. I am sure I will regain that trust again at some point, I just don’t know when. It is helpful to know that I am not the only person who has wrestled with this. I appreciate your insights and your journaling.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. As always, I am blessed by your words. Thank you for your words and for your heart for all of us! It really does help to read your posts! Thank you!Shirley

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You are so very kind, Shirley. I am thankdul that together we are stronger as we journey through the valley of child loss. I wish none of us were here, but I cherish your encouragement. May the Lord give all of us the strength we need to finish strong as we wait to be reunited with our children.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for the post. I am struggling with God as well with the same questions. I agree we won’t know the answers this side of Heaven but it does help knowing others are feeling this too. I am not alone in my struggle with how to pray to Him when He took my baby from me. Always love reading your posts. Keep up the good work!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m thankful the post is encouraging. I think one of the things we in the church often do is hide our struggles-as if it is “letting God down”. But, in my opinion, when we do that we actually shut out the very ones who are desperate to grab hold to the One Who is holding onto them. Even John the Baptist doubted, when faced with his own death-I don’t think it surprises God and it shouldn’t surprise us either.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. I listen over and over to Hillary Scott’s latest song, Thy Will Be Done. YouTube it if you haven’ t heard it. I sing it though I don’t “feel” it so I can will my soul and spirit to submit to His plan in a way that will eventually bring Him glory.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. “These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” 1 Peter 1:7. Personally, when I read this verse I say to myself I never asked for praise, glory, nor honor when Jesus returns…usually only consider myself falling at His feet to offer all these things to Him…and would rather have my son back instead of receiving any accolades on that great day. But I cannot have him back, so I try to take as much comfort in this verse as I can thinking of it as a possible answer to “why” this has happened and believe that somehow all my prayers for protection over him were answered…just not in the way I had hoped.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. So wise. I was in the store today and some woman had a shirt on that said , ” delight in The Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart”. Grieving my precious granddaughter, I just wanted to scream. Yes, I still believe in His Faithfulness and great Mercy but it’s hard to ‘feel’ it with so many questions. Thank you for your thoughts.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m so very sorry for your loss. It is just HARD. And our understanding of scripture is changed when we lose a child or grandchild. May the LORD give you strength for each day.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Thank you so much for this post. It has helped me tremendously! I have struggled with “why my prayers went unanswered concerning my child”. Like you I prayed for God’s protection for my son from the time he was born until he was grown. I would not let him walk out the door until I prayed with him. When he was deployed to Aghanistan while serving in the Army, I believe he would be protected and return home alive and whole. I believe it and he believe it, even though we knew he was going to be on the front line of war. I had faith that he would return. Now I feel like Shadrach…even if he doesn’t and he didn’t… Many of my Christian friends and many Pastors, Preachers, etc.. that I have listened to over the years since he passed have NEVER addressed the problem of Unanswered Prayers concerning the death of a child. I feel guilty when praying for someone else because in the back of my mind I’m thinking maybe this prayer will be answered and maybe it won’t. I always think not my will but your will be done. No one in my Christian circle has ever addressed unanswered prayers. When my son passed away, so many of my Christian Family and Friends referenced Joel and the ending of Joel’s story. I remember screaming, Joel had more children, I’m not going to have anymore children. He was my only child. I was a single Parent and 50 when he passed. Unanswered prayers are never talked about. This is the first time I have ever read anyone addressing it. It has given me comfort. You have written about thing that I often think about. Your posts have been such a blessing to me! I look forward to reading them everyday. It’s like you are reading my mind and heart. I thank GOD for you. God Bless You and your family!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Paula, I am so very sorry for your loss. I identify with your feeling of guilt when praying for others-so many people put faith in the prayer itself-and there is no way to know if God will truly answer as we pray. I am trying to be as honest as I can in posting about my journey. May the LORD give all of us grieving our children the strength for each day and overwhelm us with grace and mercy.

      Liked by 1 person

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