When Prayers for Miracles Go Unanswered
I knew this part would be the hardest - the hardest for me to understand - and the hardest to answer for my son. As we tried to hold and comfort our 7 year old son after the loss of his dear sweet 8 year old friend, my husband said, "We know you loved her. We know she loved you. You prayed for them so much." And that's when our son said, "But it didn't work." The words hung in the air like dense fog after a thunderstorm in an autumn morning. I attempted to address his seed of a faith crisis knowing the things I could maybe say, but things I wasn't so sure about myself anymore. I replied simply - trying to address he one statement without overloading him too much, "God heard those prayers. God hears all of our prayers." And then it got more difficult when my perceptive 7-year old said,
"He just didn't want to answer it?"
I began to mumble something about Heaven being a much better place - with no pain and no hurt, where people who struggle on earth are made whole...something about how God can care for her completely.
Momentarily, we moved on. This is normal for grieving children. His brain needed a break. We'll come back to it. This blog post is a journal on what we might say, what we might think, and where we might turn when we come back to this conversation. I hope and pray that it helps you - feel free to share encouraging and helpful thoughts in the comments below.
Be Still and Know
I asked a professional counselor that I know and esteem about how we approach loss, especially of a young child, with our children. Her name is Dana Haluska Melton and she provides a faith-filled perspective with her clients. She prayed all day about this response before answering and I believe it will provide some comfort and guidance. This is her response mixed with my prayerful edits and a few thoughts from another mother.
Dana says that "one of the hardest concepts I had to learn as a mother was that my children, while I carried them in my womb and while I love them more than anything, are first and foremost God's children." Whether our children are biologically born to us or we are led to each other through foster care or adoption, "God gives us the privilege and honor to raise his children." This thought gives us an eternal perspective on parenting and raises our eyes from the moments of minutia to the everlasting results.
For example, I have a friend named Emily who posted this on social media the other day...
I heard, "MOMMY, I HAVE A POOP IN MY UNDIES" loudly proclaimed from upstairs. I looked down and saw that the song that was beginning was "Be Still and Know." This may seem silly, but it made all the difference in how I handled it.
Be still and know that I AM GOD.
Be still and know that this season shall pass.
Be still and know that she will not go to college pooping in her undies.
Be still and know that I created you and give you ALL you need to parent well, if you'll only stop and receive it.
Be still and know that she is learning, she is precious, and she has feelings and emotions that need to be carefully tended to.
Be still and know.
Through any pain in our busy lives, sometimes we need to step away from the business, from the screens, and be still and know that our God is God. I happen to love and follow a neat UK podcast called The Nomad Podcast. Recently, they did an episode on silence: Nomad Spirituality: Brian Draper – Lent and the Transforming Power of Stillness. I highly recommend giving yourself this gift - now in grief and regularly in life. I also listen to a podcast by Rob Bell called The Robcast and lately he has been removing himself from screens and also practicing silence. You can check out more on that in this episode called The Importance of Boredom.
Intent & Purpose That We Do Not Understand
If you've been living your mom or dad life and parenting with this in mind - with a faith-filled perspective, then you can relate to that mom's story above. You can also probably relate to this idea that our children are eternally God's and we are their caretakers, their counselors, their support, their teachers, their cooks, their personal care assistants, their pastors - we're nearly everything to them. Being both a child and then a parent then gives new meaning to God as our Father.
Dana reflected that, "Nothing can be more tragic than losing one's child but if I must, there is no greater honor to lose my children than to God calling them home. (Wow that was more difficult to write than I thought! But so true.) God is a good God and he wants us to have a relationship with him. In all relationships we experience all feelings and as we express those feelings and allow ourselves to become more and more vulnerable the deeper the relationship."
Dana also said that "All people of all earthly ages are God's children and while it is harder for us to understand why a young-on-earth-child must return home sooner than someone who has had a full life on Earth, God sees us all as his children in a more timeless way."
As we search our hearts and guide our children through the grief of a very young friend, "it's important for children to understand that when we hurt, God hurts too. As our creator, God gave us choice." From the earliest humans all the way to us, we have choice and had the chance to really mold and design the world. That world is imperfect from our sin; hurt is inevitable because of our sin too. The Bible isn't a collection of stories of people who got everything right - its really the opposite. "Our "heroes" of the Bible often made poor choices - but God worked through their sin and hurt and wrong choices to show us that His love is unfailing," even in our suffering.
Dana says, "I tell my children all the time, 'Yes-you may make me angry by your choices or sad or upset but I will never stop loving you.' God never stops loving his children. Love for our children is unconditional! When we give our children rules and responsibilities and they fail, there are consequences." The same is true for all of us in our relationship with God. In our choice, we may make choices that God doesn't love - but he does still love us. "When our children argue why they should have more screen times, or an extra piece of candy or the need to stay up later we have different glasses on and see what they don't see and while they don't understand we place those needed boundaries to help them become the individuals God intended them to be and that is what God does for us."
Dana concludes, "In essence our prayers were not answered the way we wanted them to be and we have no way of comprehending why.....God sees things through a different set of lenses and knows this is exactly what needs to happen and we need to trust in his love and authority... We argue that this life should be saved and plea and bargain and pull together yet God did not answer the way we wanted, hoped and dreamed because he has intent and purpose that we do not understand...."
I have found that the difference in having a faith of practice where one just goes through the motions and can recite the memorized parts and can answer prepared questions of faith isn't really very deep. As I've journeyed down a road of questions, I find that the more questions I have, the more questions I come up with. I am becoming increasingly comfortable with the unknown. I've met enough Christians that try to reason some difficult-to-explain parts away. "The earth's age and the biblical response doesn't match up? That's just because of x, y, and z" I've heard people say with an over-confident smile. They want it to be simple, so they cut out parts and fill in others to make it simple. But the more time I've spent in silence, the more of God's mystery is revealed...and I find that its all much more than I can understand. I've found that this is a true definition of faith - trying to get comfortable with the uncomfortable feeling of not having it all figured out.
If this is something you're wanting to think about more, I highly recommend the book, Faith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions. She wrote a few others too: Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans and A Year of Biblical Womanhood that have caused much growth in my heart.
I'll be honest: I'm still having some, "But, God!?" moments myself. I prayed for a miracle of healing too. I wonder about asking God for other things in my prayers when I know this one wasn't answered. I sort of think, "But if I couldn't entrust that to you to take care of, why bother with anything else?" Though questions spin in my head, I'm still turning to God. I'm still praying. So, that seems to be a sign that I haven't given up. Our hurting world has immense pain every day - pain that it invisible to many of us. Ebola reared its ugly head and so many voices cried out for help. I definitely don't believe that God is sending pain to anyone. Jesus came here to put an end to the pain and give us a chance to know our Heavenly Father. God isn't where the pain comes from. Sometimes we are confused by our cultural myth of redemptive violence. God is above that or maybe rather, below it, for he came lowly like a servant to provide another way. Its from our sin and from the violence that lurks in the world. But, God is greater. His garden is perfect and restful.
I knew that sweet child for many years. She proclaimed her love for my son on more than one occasion and wanted to marry him since they were 2! We hadn't missed a birthday since the day our families became friends when our two children found each other in the spring at a local amusement park. At age 3, she told her mom that "God is building a castle in the sky for Jonathan and I to live in when we get married." I've thought about that castle many times in the last 10.5 months.
Today I remember the scripture from John 14 when Jesus comforts his disciples,
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe in Me as well. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and welcome you into My presence, so that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
These young friends were only 20 and 19 months old here.
We prayed for a miracle for our friend. So did our whole town. We knew the odds were against us. We knew there was no cure. If we were singularly praying for God to heal our friend, then this result might be incredibly troubling. But I believe that we were praying for more. If you let your perspective be transformed a bit, you might see that many prayers were answered.
We were praying for a cure for this rare cancer that isn't really that rare. We can still effect change in this area. We can write to senators and representatives to give needed money to medical research to actually find a cure. Tell them the story that touched and changed your life and your family's life forever. If DIPG had more research money, the preliminary trials that are so hard to get into right now might be more common. The more trials there are, the higher chances are that a cure can be found.
We were praying for the time that this family had together on earth to be blessed, to be holy, to be treasured, to be easy. We raised money so that they could do what they needed: take time off of work or buy a car to get them to treatments. Businesses and professionals came together to give our young friend and her family last wishes that would bless their time together. Community members have been making meals for months to be sure that this family could think about more important things. Family members were able to be present daily and surround their daughter, sister, niece, grand-daughter, cousin, & friend in love.
We have been praying for their marriage and for her younger sister, for her cousins and extended family. Our prayers will continue. They are needed. It will all be challenged. They all need our continued faith and prayer so very much.
We have been praying for this sweet girl to feel the love and support of the community around her. In many instances, God has been answering prayer through our actions of love. God will continue to use us as blessings in many ways - both for this precious family and for all of the other children who are diagnosed with DIPG.
We were praying for our children who were her friends. We pray for their faith. We might end up having more purposeful discussions over the course of their lives that allow them to become doctors, nurses, caregivers, pastors, teachers, and maybe medical researchers. None of us know the future, but if we are positive sources of grace and light and reminders of God's mercy in this very difficult journey, perhaps a miracle can come of it in ways we cannot anticipate. Keep praying.
Keep being the hands and feet of Christ - reaching out and going to the ends of the earth to care for God's people and make disciples.