Sometimes prayers, no matter how pure and persistent, go unanswered
I clutched my mother’s rosary tightly in my sweaty hands and stared down at the rotary phone, willing it to ring. The shrieks and giggles of my siblings couldn’t pry me from my post. I was frantically saying Hail Marys over and over, but as the moments passed, panic and bitter disappointment crept into my heart. The raffle ticket had promised the call would be placed by 7 p.m. I had three minutes to go. Ring, I thought desperately, just ring!
I was 8 years old and had spent my last hard-earned dollar on a ticket to win a new bike. Being from a large family, I had only ridden rusty hand-me-downs, and I had been obsessed with the raffle since the shiny red two-wheeler caught my eye. After learning recently in my parochial school religion class that if you knocked, the door would be opened to you, my little mind was confident that sessions of all-day door banging would result in my being the grand prize winner, wind blowing my pigtails, the envy of all my neighborhood. I had devoted every moment of that day, anxiously begging the heavens for this gift.
The call never came, and I was crestfallen. It was my first lesson in the hard truth that sometimes prayers, no matter how pure and persistent, go unanswered.
Over the course of my life I have found myself in this situation more times that I can count. There have been financial blessings that didn’t come through, job opportunities lost and loved ones who haven’t been healed. In some circumstances, after time has passed, I have come to understand that my prayers went unanswered for a reason. Because God had a better plan. And with his gift of hindsight, I realize that what I asked for paled in comparison to what he had in store for me. Experiencing this profound phenomenon has humbled and helped me — even when faced with times of excruciating pain and disappointment — to remain open to God’s will for my life, his plan, his truly wondrous ways.
But we do not always receive the consolation of hindsight, and trusting God’s will isn’t always easy. There are times when prayers are not answered, and in this lifetime, we will never understand why. These times God can seem cold and even cruel. In these moments it is difficult not to succumb to despair.
On one particular occasion, when my multitude of novenas and rosaries were returned with the echoes of silence from heaven, I found myself broken and angry. In my anguish, I felt so far from the love of God that I physically cried out to him, “Lord, how can this be your will for my life? Haven’t I tried so hard to be faithful to you? Don’t you know me at all?” It was as if all the stories of Christ and his love for me were just that, stories, and my entire life, in one moment, no longer had meaning. And how could it? Didn’t Jesus himself say, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24)? This evidently was patently false or didn’t apply to me.
And without seeking it, my eyes rested on a crucifix. I saw a man who was once broken too. I saw a man who had the power to relieve his suffering and change the outcome of his misery and chose not to. He chose not to because it would have meant losing me. Me. And his love was so great that he would choose death for the mere chance that I would follow him and join him one day in paradise. Would a God like this turn a deaf ear on my pleas? Would a God like this withhold his mercy and love from the plan of my life? And my heart softened. I knew in that moment that Christ was with me, really with me, and that even though it hurt, I would place my life in his hands and accept his will in all things.
“When you accept God’s will in every aspect of your life, you will find God providing you with strength, courage and a dignity that resounds to the heavens. It resounds to the heavens because it doesn’t have far to go. Heaven, you see, is suddenly in your heart” (Mother Angelica, Mother Angelica’s Answers, Not Promises).
The choice is ours. We can choose to resent God’s will when our prayers are unanswered or to embrace it, whatever it might be. But for me, even though it’s hard, I choose Christ.
Jesus, I trust in you.
Maria Garabis Davisholds a Juris Doctor degree and a BA in theology. A former youth minister and now practicing attorney, she resides in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband and four children.