Susan Ciancio ponders how the absence of a yes does not mean that God isn’t answering our prayers.
I first heard Garth Brooks’ song “Unanswered Prayers” when I was in college. In the song, a man talks about his high school girlfriend and of the many prayers he prayed for the success and continuation of the relationship. The couple eventually broke up, and at some point he met his wife. Years later, when he ran into his old girlfriend, he realized how blessed he was to have his wife, and it was then that he understood all those “unanswered prayers.”
The song touched me then, and it still does today, as it helps me realize that God’s “unanswered prayers” are often blessings.
However, as I grew older, I also grew wiser. And while I understand what Brooks means in the song, I have to disagree with his wording. It may just be a case of semantics, but words matter. The absence of a yes does not mean that God isn’t answering our prayers. He isn’t ignoring us or brushing us off in the hopes we’ll go away and stop asking. God is telling us no.
No is a difficult word to hear, especially when it’s the answer to a prayer you so desperately desire. That no can be heartbreaking. It can be devastating. That no can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation. It may even lead to the person wondering if God cares about them. How many times have you heard someone say that God didn’t answer their prayers so He must not exist? They mistakenly believe that He didn’t answer them, when in fact He just said no. Because of this, they begin to lose faith.
Instead of becoming firmer in their resolve, instead of trying to determine the reason for the no, and instead of trusting in God’s goodness, many people dismiss Him. They feel rejected by Him, so they reject Him.
It’s hard to accept a no, especially to those prayers we so fiercely pray. We may even think that what we’re praying for is a good thing. I have had a few such instances that stand out and leave me confused as to why God said no. During these times, I persisted in prayer, reminding myself of what Jesus taught in Matthew's Gospel:
“For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:8)
So I kept knocking. I kept asking. In many instances, I found myself pleading. But God still said no.
And then I decided to read the rest of that section in Matthew. When I did so, it blew me away. Jesus continued:
“Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask Him.” (Matthew 7:9-11)
Maybe God tells us no in response to some prayers because what we are asking for is not the good thing we think it is. Maybe, in reality, it is the stone or the snake in disguise. And since He would never hand us either of those things, He says no. I think that’s what Brooks was trying to impart in his song.
But when God does say no, we must have hope that He is following that up with “Trust Me. I have something even better planned.” This trust leads us to understand that, no matter what, He is also telling us, “Do not worry; I am right here with you through this. I’ve got you, and I will never let go.”
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God is our constant, and though He often tells us no, we have to trust that He has a reason for the no. #catholicmom
We may never understand why God has said no to the things we pray for, especially if—in our eyes—those desperate prayers are for good and holy things. So we pray more, we talk to God, we ask for understanding and guidance, and we allow His will to be done. We ask for His protection against a world that wants us to believe that He doesn’t exist and against people who chip away at our faith telling us that “a good God wouldn’t allow bad things to happen to good people.”
We ask for the fortitude to understand the difference between God’s perfect will and God’s permissive will. And we ask to feel at peace with His decision, knowing that someday we will find clarity.
Despite all our trials and hardships, we can be assured of God’s words in Isaiah:
“Do not fear: I am with you; do not be anxious: I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
Yes, God is always there for us. He is our constant, and though He often tells us no, we have to trust that He has a reason for the no. We have to trust in His love and in the fact that He wants only what’s good for us. We have to trust that—even when we cannot see it—He knows the difference between a loaf of bread and a stone.
Mostly, we must trust in His love. If ever we are in doubt, we need only look to the Cross.
Copyright 2022 Susan Ciancio
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About the Author
Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s in liberal studies from Indiana University. Since 2003, she has worked as a professional editor and writer. She is executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program and editor of ALL's Celebrate Life Magazine.