A couple months ago, during the small group time in the Junior High ministry at my old church, one of my girls started to ask me about unanswered prayer. She asked why would God allow certain things to happen – like a divorce, let’s say – and you’ve been waiting and waiting for God to explain why, but He never answers?
I knew what she was actually asking me. See, her parents divorced when she was young, because her father is an alchoholic. Now, she spends one week with her dad, the other with her mom. Her father has a girlfriend, but her mother is still alone. This teen girl has told me that she prays so hard that her parents will get back together, but it never happens. She’s asked me, “Why do other people’s parents get to stay together, but mine had to break up?”
So, when this girl asked that night about unanswered prayer, I knew what she was really asking me: “Why has God never explained to me why my parents divorced? Why did He let this happen to me?”
This is not an unusual problem. All of us have dealt with hardships and pain through our lives that have left us bruised and scarred. We know that God is omniscient (all-knowing), so He has all the answers. We know that the Lord loves to speak to us, so we just have to be willing to listen to His voice. Furthermore, we know that He is omnipotent (all-powerful), so He could have stopped us from getting hurt in the first place.
When God doesn’t give us answers, stays silent, and seemingly never even tries to protect us, it can leave us more confused and hurt. That confusion leads to cynicism, which leads to bitterness. It’s a horrible cycle that happens more often to Christians than what seems to be right.
And you know what? I’ve struggled with these same things, too.
This is what I shared with her:
The last 5 years, I clung to a promise I thought God had given to me. Yet, over time, it looked less and less like that promise would ever come true. I continued to cling to it, in hopes that if I just stayed faithful to God’s Word and His promises, THE promise would be fulfilled and everything would turn out right in the end. For the last two years, people kept trying to tell me that the promise was not true, that I had “heard what I wanted to hear” and I just needed to move on with my life.
It has been the most confusing years of my life.
I knew the Holy Spirit had been speaking to me the night I received the promise, so I had no doubt in my mind that I heard from the Lord. I also had received Bible verses from the Holy Spirit that I thought was encouraging me to wait for the promise to be fulfilled. Every time I felt desperate or hopeless, I figuratively waved my fists at God and shook that promise like a ragdoll, demanding, “You told me! You told me! What, did you lie to me?!” It caused me to be so angry and cynical. I could see that promise and how beautiful it could be – what was taking God so long to make it come true?!
I could go on and on about how those two years were the hardest on me spiritually. I think it is easier to understand, though, if you’ve ever been in the same situation with the Lord. However, I want to focus what I realized after those two years, when it became absolutely apparent that promise was never, ever going to be fulfilled.
I didn’t hear God confirm to me that the promise wouldn’t be fulfilled. It’s just obvious by the situation. (I hope you will understand that I can’t give details about this, because it involves other people who I would like to stay on good terms with in case they ever read this post.) Realizing by the situation, though, is discouraging, because I think it would be easier to know it’s never going to happen if I felt God had confirmed it to me Himself.
What I did realize was all those years, I thought the comfort would come when the promise was fulfilled. That’s why I shook that promise like a ragdoll in God’s face as if to say, “Why are you withholding happiness from me?!” What has actually comforted me, though, is the knowledge that even though my life will play out differently than I thought, God’s plans are still good for me.
Jeremiah 29:11-13 says:
‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.’
The comfort did not come by receiving answers to my questions. The comfort did not come by having my promise realized. Instead, the comfort came by the Comforter Himself, resting on his biblical promises that He will always do things in my best interest and He has great plans for me ahead (Romans 8:28).
If you are waiting on God to answer questions for “Why did you let this happen?!”, I would encourage you to stop looking behind you. Even if God explained to you the reasons, you wouldn’t feel any better! I know this is hard to believe – trust me. For example, although God has never told me why this Junior High girl’s parents were allowed to divorce, I practically understand the reasons why: her mother is so, so much happier to be away from that man, who abused her and was an alcoholic, than to have stayed with him. However, I know that answer won’t encourage this girl; it won’t make her feel any better about the situation.
I also know that if someone had shown me two years ago what my life is like now (which is good), versus what my life would have been like if the promise had been fulfilled (which would have been bad), I would not have cared. I would not have cared that Deep Roots would never have happened, or that I would be pursuing graduate school. I would not have cared how many people I could have blessed this way than the way of the promise. I would only want that promise, even though the promise would have been toxic for me and have left me constantly frustrated. Just like my Junior Higher, the reality and logic would not have made me feel any better.
So, instead, we all need to look ahead at what the Lord has in store for us. For this girl, I told her to think about how many people she will be able to minister to whose parents are divorced. She will be able to do a ministry, for example, that I could never do since my parents are not divorced. I would have a harder time ministering to people from broken homes than her. (I’ll be honest, though. When people tell me that God can use my pain to help others, I then often wonder, “So I went through all of this just so I could talk to people?! My pain has been wasted! Who’s around to talk to me?!”) Just rest on the fact that your pain is not, and never will be, wasted (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). Also take heart by Job’s life – he was blessed even more abundantly after he lost everything (Job 42:12).
Today, I am trying to rest on the fact that God has good plans for me. It doesn’t always seem that way. I just know He does, and that is where my comfort lies for today. I hope you are resting there, too.
Leave me a comment with your thoughts – I would love to hear them.