A(n Unanswered) Prayer

(UPDATE: As I read old posts to transition to the new blog, I see pieces that are a snapshot of what we went through before and not where we are now.  So many of our prayers were answered in a way that we love, just on God’s timeline and in ways we couldn’t understand in the moment (or even now).  Everything I wrote is true – and I firmly believe that I am allowed to hate God’s timing, which I did and still do – but things are better and prayers were answered.  This piece is good, but I think context is important, and the context of this is very different than the context of now. – RB)

I’m frank but guarded about what is going on with me when I’m writing on this blog.  I strongly believe that we should all be more frank about ourselves and admit our weaknesses and struggles, but that is a far cry from the specifics of our dirty laundry and what is specifically going on in our lives.

Frank, but guarded.  That’s my motto, I guess.

So this is a vast departure from my normal policy of frank and open but vague descriptions.

Nora and I have a prayer that, at least in our broken eyes, has been unanswered for a few years: despite having skills and being a very hard worker, Nora cannot find work outside of retail.  Every year we pray that she will not have to go through another holiday shopping season as an underpaid, overworked, and miserable retail worker, and every year the answer from our prayers has been, “No.”  Or, “Wait,” as some commentators would have us believe.

This isn’t a new prayer – not even close – but driving home from Dubuque this afternoon we were discussing my sermon and I was trying to explain the direction I would go with it (it’s on James 5:13-20).  I was half-reading, half-expounding on the passage when I hit the bit about Ezekiel praying for the rain to stop and then the rain to start, and how he was just a man.

Nora looks at me – while driving, which is a bit scary, now that I think about it – and asks, “So does that mean that unanswered prayers are because we didn’t pray hard enough?  Or that we didn’t have enough faith?”

For all pastors whose significant others haven’t asked them the theodicy questions yet, especially when you know the prayers that haven’t been answered and those prayers being repeatedly answered with. “No,” have affected your life, your marriage, and the joy of the one whom you have dedicated your personal life to, the right seminary answers won’t come to you.

Part of the struggle I have is that even when things have gone vastly outside of my desires, my hindsight has shown me the path.  I know why God made me go through some things, made me struggle with things that are actually my strengths, and made my ministry path much…longer and more difficult than I thought it should be.

The path leading to this point for me makes sense.  The path, forward or backwards, from where Nora is blocked by the densest fog.

“If you have faith, you will receive whatever you pray for.” – Matthew 21:22 CEB

I will be completely honest, this question has given me debilitating pause this evening.  Scripture clearly says – very clearly, in multiple spots – that if we have faith and we ask, it will be given.  I don’t buy the idea that Jesus was speaking in hyperbole – it strikes me as a cop-out – and so I find myself asking the same question:

Are we just not praying hard enough?  Is our faith not strong enough?

I keep asking myself this, and I keep thinking the answer must be, “Yes,” and then I wonder how our faith is so weak that we can’t pray hard enough that someone who needs a hard worker in nearly any field won’t hire a hard worker with skills and a willingness to learn anything, or that we can’t at least see the reason why our prayer isn’t being answered with a “Yes” or “Okay, now you can go.”

The other option is that God is truly willing this to be what is going on, and it is God’s plan for her to not find different work.  Which wouldn’t be so damn hard to swallow if we could just see a little bit through the blinding fog.

So here is my prayer:

God, please give us direction or guidance or vision or a change to lift the struggles.  Something to make this easier.


– Robby

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