#Blessed in the Land of Unanswered Prayer

Yesterday, I read this heartfelt post by Phoebe Holmes, the blogger behind Herding Cats. Like me, Phoebe is the parent of special needs child, lives in the Pacific Northwest, and laments the exuberant overuse of hashtags. Here is an excerpt:

I see this all the time. People who are all “God answers prayers!” and hashtagging photos with things like #miracles and #blessed and all that. And I can’t help myself, I roll my eyes.

… And I wonder… what must they think of us? I mean, if praying to God fixes things in their life, what am I doing wrong? Why is Maura still the way she is? Why didn’t God answer my prayers with her?

I wonder, do they all thing I’m not praying right? That I’m not a good enough Christian? I mean, back in the day, if you had a child with some sort of problem, it was seen as a punishment from God for the sins of the parents. Do they think my child’s health status is because of a lousy prayer life? That I should find Jesus and have a talk with Him about things, and then poof! My daughter is healed.

Good stuff, right? I mean, you might not agree, but she gets full marks for honesty. Haven’t we all felt this way?

There are two issues she raises that I want to address: the  meaning of “blessed,” and the implications of unanswered prayer.

First, I am going to come right out and say that I am blessed, but not in the way you might think. My life is far from perfect. I have experienced my share of heartache and hardship, and I’m still waiting for God to answer my prayers for my Jackson.

Even with those prayers unanswered, however, I still say I’m blessed.

After all, I have Jackson. He’s my son. I’ve got four other amazing kids, too, and a wife who has stuck with me for seventeen years. I also have a steady job, a house, and I live in one of the prettiest places anywhere. And you know what I’ve done to be so blessed? Nothing. I don’t deserve any of it.

Does that mean God is biased toward me? Certainly not. It is unfortunate that so many people think He rolls that way:  their business is doing well, so God must be endorsing their practice; their kids are healthy, so they must have prayed for the right amount of time; they experience an unexplainable positive turn of events–a miracle, even–so God must like them extra.

It’s just not true. God doesn’t play favorites. “The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.”

Rain is a blessing for parched crops, but a curse for flooded streets. In short, there are too many factors we can’t see. We didn’t call down sickness or neurological disorders on our children, and neither do we pull down a forcefield of health and riches. Reality is far more complicated than that. Life just happens sometimes.

When I say I am blessed, I simply mean I am thankful. Most people do, I think. If every good and perfect gift really does come from the Father of Lights like the scripture says, I can look for all the good things in my life and marvel with gratitude. In fact, as a believer, this is my responsibility.

When Jesus used the word “blessed” in His famous beatitudes, He was making an even greater point: God’s face is turned toward all of us. His kingdom has come even to the poor, the mourners, and the persecuted. All of us are #blessed.

So why the unanswered prayers? Why does my blogger friend feel so forgotten by a God who is supposed to be good above all things? Why has my Jackson’s language gone away again? Why is there epilepsy? Why bloodshed? Why cancer? Why AIDS? Why terror and hate?

My answer, I admit, is radically unsatisfying:

I don’t know why.

I don’t know why it pours when it rains. I don’t understand the flooding. I don’t know why this one gets breakthrough while that one doesn’t. But I know we can’t pull a lever and win his favor. As C.S. Lewis reminds us, “it isn’t as if He was a tame Lion.”

So I stand next to Phoebe with shoulders slumping at all the death, all the sickness, all the brokenness of this world, and all the brokenness inside my own heart. I want it all fixed. I want God to put it back together. And on the great day of resolution, I believe He will.

For now, though, on this side of eternity, we go on grappling. We research. Like the persistent widow, we ask, then we ask again. We pray and keep on praying. Who knows? Maybe He will finally answer us with an unexpected breakthrough. If that happens to us, we ought to celebrate. It’s only right. Hashtags away!

But what if it doesn’t happen for us? What if it happens for someone else? Herein lies the challenge.

We will want to roll our eyes, to torpedo their hashtags, to resent their gain, as if it has anything to do with our loss. That link, however, exists only in our minds. We can’t pin our disappointment on the joyful.

The Apostle Paul offers a different course of action. He says to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” Who would have thought the rejoicing part would be the harder of the two?

No, it isn’t easy, but there is a new strength that comes when we celebrate one another’s victories. It is a painful brand of thanksgiving, but it is worth it. Community is born out of such sacrifice. Family happens here.

And when the party is over, when the “congratulations” comment threads die down, we can return to God to remind Hm of all the things left undone.

“God, I am still hurting. Still waiting. What’s taking You so long? Do you still see me?” God invites us there, to that raw and prayerful place, so we can pour out all our frustrations, all our anger, all our confusion. Our complaints might come out like David’s poems, complete with the snot and the vitriol and the cursing. That’s okay. God meets us there anyway. The Comforter can only sooth our aching places when we actually admit to having aching places.

Indeed, that is where He meets me. And most of the time, His answers comes not in a resolution but in a whisper that recalls the beautiful, throbbing tensions permeating the land of unanswered prayer. Yes, there is pain, but in oh so many ways, I am still blessed.

 

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Photos by my good buddy Robert Bearden

8 replies
  1. Grace Audet
    Grace Audet says:

    Well written, as always, Jason. Yes, I believe a breakthrough is coming soon, but God’s little whiles may seem long, indeed, to us. We both know there’s much more going on in Jackson than we can tap into, though we have brief moments of connection. Presently, those moments are few & far between, but they are wonderful when they come. Keep on keeping on, and rejoice always, in the midst of, not because or in spite of all things, because God is still good and in control. Nothing catches Him by surprise.

  2. Jan Sewell
    Jan Sewell says:

    Your writing is very insightful, and I certainly went away with hope. I do not have a special needs child or grand child. I do suffer with chronic back pain, but this is a minor affliction. My heart is partnering with God in intercession for our nation and other nations He lays on my heart. God bless you and your family. I’ll be praying for Jackson.

  3. teresa a. gaston
    teresa a. gaston says:

    Thank you for the video, and the above witnessing to God’s goodness. We do have to remind each other of how blessed we all are despite the imperfections of life. And yes, it is being able to acknowledge with gratitude all that comes our way where happiness lies.
    My youngest daughter has a masteral degree in Special Needs Education and I shared this video and blog with her. She is also married to a wonderful man with hearing impairment. Last night I went to see a play about the dynamics in a family with a son with hearing impairment and how often we are the ones deaf…we the normal ones with our faculties functioning. And it love….like the love that has moved you to write about your autistic son …that unlocks our blindness (and deafness) and enables us to accept the gift of another’s life. Again thank you.

  4. Fiona
    Fiona says:

    Hi!
    I don’t even have Facebook anymore. I stumbled onto your blog via a internet search and I now know that this was obviously a God-incidence. He wanted me to read this!
    I have two sons with autism and a marriage that has seen better days and have long struggled with the #blessed hashtag and the seemingly unfairness of life and the unanswered prayers.
    Particularly when other family members and friends seem to be abundantly thriving while I’m over here frantically treading water trying to stay afloat. It makes me wonder what I’ve done so wrong – even though deep down I know that God doesn’t work like that. Thankyou for writing this and giving me a much needed new perspective.

  5. Pieter
    Pieter says:

    Hi Jason
    I am also a father with a son with autism
    Half way accross the world in South Africa
    I recently discovered your website
    And I am inspired after reading this post
    Sometimes I feel that God only favours his blue eye kids
    when we baptised our son when he was young we got word from 4 strangers that day – bright mind they all said
    Can you imagine the shock and disbelieve when we heard the word autism! Only to find out its just that his mind is affected by this condition
    How do you keep going? How do you keep praying?
    What do you say to God after he blessed you with a child
    All I am keeping on to
    Walk by faith not by sight!

  6. Bryan Stoudt
    Bryan Stoudt says:

    Hi Jason, loved the poem and video about Jack that you did recently, but I’ve also appreciated your other posts, like this one. Like you, I’m a pastor and father of an autistic son, Matthew (15). I so appreciate the way you are very honest about the challenges and the fact that we simply can’t know why God has allowed autism in our lives. But also that you tenaciously hold onto the joy and hope we have, both now and esp. in the future because of Christ.

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