There are lots of things I don’t understand. I don’t understand much about the economy, I don’t understand really how a car works and I don’t understand why I can’t do a forward roll. Some things I’m happy to have no understanding of. I quite like my simplistic, sometimes childish world view- on many matters in this wonderful, horrible, complex beast we call life, for me ignorance really is bliss.
But there are some things for which my lack of understanding causes me great pain. Some things I long to see the light on but seem to remain stuck in the dark.
One of the things that falls firmly into the latter group is why prayers go unanswered and God seems to remain silent on the things that feel most important and painful.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog on prayer- I spoke about how I struggled to find the words to pray and my hope that the fact my heart was broken for what I believed broke God’s was enough for the spirit to intercede on my behalf. Now I seem to find myself writing what feels like a follow up blog on what happens when there seems to be nobody home; God’s on mute and heaven is silent and your prayers, whether whispered or screamed, spoken or felt are left unanswered.
What is our come back? How do we carry on?
I have actually, audibly heard God’s voice once and I can honestly say it was the most incredible experience. I was interviewing for a place in a religious community in the middle of nowhere and had had misgivings the whole journey there. I’d been at the house for 10 minutes and as I stood, trying to put my finger on what this feeling meant, looking out over the grounds I heard God say “No. Not here.” Just three words, three words that changed my life. Three words that gave me the courage to leave a four day interview, 15 hours in, courage to explore what God’s call actually was on my life and the courage to believe with confidence that God was really quite interested in the mundaneness of my 18 year old life. Awesome!
I haven’t heard God’s voice since then, sure I’ve felt God communicating, speaking things to my heart but I haven’t had prayers so tangibly answered in the seven years since. And to be honest I think I could do with it.
I’m not a fan of silence, it unnerves me, I don’t even go to sleep in silence. And I’m even less of a fan of the silent treatment- having been on the receiving end of the most cold of shoulders on far too many occasions in my formative teenage years in what could be quite a bitchy group of girls. So you can imagine how much I dislike what feels like the silent treatment from the big man. It feels lonely and just a little bit cruel.
Having experienced a significant bereavement, the sting of unanswered prayer is something I’ve wrestled with and known before- but just because it’s not the first time that doesn’t make it any easier, in fact I wonder if it makes it harder now. It’s led me to wonder if it’s kinda become what I expect…
God, I’m getting a bit desperate, say something, I’m giving up on you…
Life kinda hurts at the moment, I find myself in a situation that seemed to be a real, well timed, tangible answer to prayer (a little like that audible voice of seven years ago) but in reality is not what I expected. It’s difficult, painful, and feels a bit dangerous and scary and having been led to this place I now feel as though I’ve been abandoned in it- left to try and manage the mess, on my own in the pain. To pick up on the idea from my last blog on prayer, I’m trying to call God (on the prayer telephone) but it seems he is screening his calls and not returning his voicemail.
Say something, I’m giving up on you…
One of my favourite books on faith, I’ve read it about five or six times, is ‘God on Mute’ by Pete Greig. A book written by the guy who started the 24/7 prayer movement, a guy who is a prayer warrior exploring unanswered prayer from the heart breaking position of praying for healing for his wife while watching her suffer terribly. It’s not just me, it seems, who struggles with the times when heaven is silent. Unanswered prayer is something we will all come up against at some point during our walk with God. We may all feel like we’re not being listened to, we may all feel the sting of apparent abandonment.
But while unanswered prayers hurt and can lead to wonderful, faith filled people turning their backs on God completely, I wonder if actually a time of silence from God can provide us with a challenge that, if we can withstand it, could lead to a deeper, more mature, more refined faith.
I was speaking to a friend the other day about the joy of having a friend with whom you can pick up where you left off regardless of how much time has lapsed. We surmised that it was the mark of true, mature friendship- no matter how often you touched base, knowing the relationship could survive the busyness of life, the times of silence and the ebbing and flowing of love and it led me to reflect on what that could mean for my relationship with God.
I’m not married, but I know enough about the world to know that marriages ebb and flow, a life long, enduring relationship will not always be in the first flush of love. Often marriage takes the discipline to know that you will carry on loving that person because you promised your life to them and you know that while, at the moment everything they do is annoying you and they know how to hurt you most and right now you may not even be speaking properly, there will come a time when you are, once again, head over heals in love again. Maturity and discipline is sticking with it in times when the love ebbs away.
Unanswered prayer can lead us to a time where the love in our relationship with God can ebb away. We feel hurt, neglected, forgotten about; the one who knows our hearts most intimately is staying silent on what feels most important and painful. Ouch!
But perhaps in that time of pain we are being set the challenge to remember maturity and discipline, to remember that our love for god can endure this time just as his love endures for us. It may be the last thing we want to do during a period of silence and unanswered prayer but there is only really the choice to give up and walk away, as so many do, or to engage the silence- press in to it, remembering God’s faithfulness in the past and holding on to his potential faithfulness in the future.
Father, say something I’m giving up on you… But I’m not walking out. I’m hurt and feel abandoned by you, I can’t believe you’ve bought me to this place and are now to choosing to stay silent, but my love for you can withstand this… I hope…
Today I pray for those of you also facing what seems like a wall of silence, I’m so sorry, hold on and believe that there can be recovery from this- there IS a future for your relationship with god.
I leave you with my favourite reflection from that book, God on Mute…
Engaging the Silence
First there is prayer
And where there is prayer there may be miracles
But where miracles may not be there are questions
And where there are questions there may be silence
But silence may be more than absence
Silence may be presence muted
Silence may not be nothing but something
To explore defy accuse engage
And this is prayer
And where there is prayer there may yet be miracles…