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I’ve prayed a lot of prayers the last few years that have gone unanswered, at least, that’s how I’ve viewed them. My nephew is one of the biggest ones I can think of right now.
I prayed so often, “Lord, let my nephew be born without Down syndrome.” Well, my nephew was born this month and diagnosed with Down syndrome shortly after. He is good and perfect gift but that doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes wish his story was different.
I imagined that my prayers for my nephew would be pretty simple for God to answer: Fix nephews genes. Check.
It’s not like this is a self-seeking prayers. I wasn’t asking God for a six bedroom mansion or six figure paycheck. I was asking God to make broken people whole.
But I’ve learned that God rarely answers prayers the way I want him too, just because I ask. Even in the Bible there are very few instances where people received exactly what they prayed for. For example:
· Moses prayed that God would send someone else. But God still sent him to free the Israelites from the Egyptians he just sent his brother Aaron along to hold his hand.
· David fasted and prayed for his son to be healed. But his son died anyway.
· In Matthew 26:39 Jesus prays to be spared from a violent death. Shortly after he was arrested, tortured, and hung on a cross to die.
· Paul sought God repeatedly to remove the “thorn in his flesh” but the thorn remained.
Shortly after my nephew’s birth, the pediatrician sat with my brother and sister-in-law and explained the 5 stages of grief to them: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. He told them they would cycle through these over and over for the next few months, that it was normal and to be expected.
Afterwards, I began to think about how I find my way back to God after an unanswered prayer. I realized that I keep my faith in God because I allow myself to grieve each time.
My grief cycle when God doesn’t answer my prayers the way I like normally goes something like this:
Denial: It’s not that I pretend God has answered my prayer, it’s more a feeling of disbelief. “I can’t believe that my nephew was born with Down syndrome, we prayed so hard, God why didn’t you do something?”
Anger: “God why didn’t heal them!” I start questioning if God exists. I ask questions like, “If God loved me would he let this horrible thing happen?” I’ve even been known to take a long walk along the beach shouting, “I hate you” at God. Anger can be a difficult emotion to deal with, but I’ve found it isn’t an emotion that surfaces for no reason. Realizing that my anger is telling me something has been a game-changer. I used to be scared of my anger, I felt like it was in control of me. Now, I’m realizing my anger signals my heart needs attention. Saying, “God, I’m angry with you,” is part of the process of finding my way back to him after a disappointment.
Bargaining: This is when I start praying things like, “God, what do you want from me to make this better?” But I’m learning that when I find myself bargaining, it is normally because this coping mechanism allows me to keep living in the past rather than face the difficulties of the present.
Depression: While finding my way back to God after finding out my nephew has Down syndrome, there were days when I just felt really sad. At times I felt empty and lost. When I feel this way I’ve gone for a run or looked at a picture of how perfect and complete my nephew is. And I’ve talked to my husband about how I felt.
Acceptance: Then there are the times when I am able to say, “Lord, have your way, I trust you even though I don’t understand you.” It’s not that everything has been fixed, or that my nephew no longer has Down syndrome, it’s just that I’ve found peace and I’ve learned how to be content that God is in control.
Trusting God after a disappointment isn’t quite as easy as following these 5 stages might make it seem. I don’t always follow them from 1 to 5. Sometimes I go through them and then cycle back around. Other times I zig-zag through. But I’ve found no matter how I process it, allowing myself to feel my way through disappointment with God helps me to find my way back to him.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t times when I wonder if God even exists, or if I’ve just been muttering prayers to myself like a crazy woman on a train platform. There are other times when faith finds me and I believe with my bone marrow that God hears me, that God cares and that he is answering even my biggest prayers. Maybe just not the way I expected and demanded, or maybe he is simply giving me the grace I need to live through them.
Wendy van Eyck is married to Xylon, who talks non-stop about cycling, and makes her laugh. She writes for anyone who has ever held a loved one’s hand through illness, ever believed in God despite hard circumstances or ever left on a spontaneous 2-week holiday through a foreign land with just a backpack. You can follow Wendy’s story and subscribe to receive her free ebook, “Life, life and more life” at ilovedevotionals.com. She would also love to connect with you on Facebook and Twitter.