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Unanswered Prayers

By Heather Oman

If you’re a Garth Brooks fan, you recognized the title of this post immediately, and perhaps even starting humming a few bars of the song. It’s a great song, about how this guy and his wife run into his old high school flame at a hometown football game (that’s a rhyming lyric right there, in case you missed it). She wasn’t quite the angel he remembered her to be, and basically he can see that she thinks he’s a chump, too. They tried to talk about the old days, it was awkward, and he walks away thinking, ‘Dang my wife is totally hot.’ And then he thanks God for unanswered prayers, because if he had had his way, he’d be married to that woman instead of his awesomely perfect wife he has. So basically, way to go God! And the chorus ends with “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers”. Prime country music goodness, I tell you what.

The reason I bring this up is because I had my very own unanswered prayers moment this past week. I ran into an old friend/ex/who knows what, a person I had a long history with, who disappeared from my life when he got married at a young age. I did not have enough married friends at the time (heck, I didn’t have ANY married friends at the time) to realize that this happens when a friend gets married and you stay single, and it was hard to wrap my brain around it. This of course was before the days of facebook and blogs, and so for decades I wondered what had happened to him.

And then I ran into him in the most unexpected of places, and I was so in shock at seeing him that I was literally speechless. And the meeting, it was awkward. Epic in the awkwardness, y’all. My husband wasn’t with me, so I couldn’t introduce the two of them, but I went home and greeted him like he’s never been greeted before. My husband is the most awesome thing ever. And while we have our ups and downs like most folks, I can’t imagine my life happier with anybody else. Thank God for unanswered prayers.

But it’s easy with 20 years of space and experience to look back and recognize the wisdom (or folly) of the paths we took, and God’s plan for us. It’s much harder in the interim to be grateful that things aren’t going the way we hope or want or expect. The prayers I uttered as a lovestruck teenager aren’t the only ones in my life that have gone unanswered, and I feel like lots of them are much bigger than praying for a date for the homecoming dance (which may or may not be categorized as a righteous desire. I suppose it depends on the dress?).

So what does that mean for a believer when our prayers go unanswered? Does it mean that God has something better planned? Maybe. Hopefully. That’s hard to see, though, when the prayer is for healing, or blessings, or miracles, or all of the above. Who doesn’t want a miracle? And most people I know who ask for miracles don’t do it lightly—they do so because something big is on the line.

Maybe that’s what faith really is. Moving forward even when our prayers go unanswered and the path is unclear. To know that God is listening, even when you feel like your prayers are fading into unresponsive air.

Some would also say that faith is NOT listening to country music, but I’m telling you, Garth Brooks is the man. Okay, so the song loses some of its punch because he ended up leaving his wife for Trisha Yearwood after years of infidelity, and, okay, that makes him kind of a douche (am I allowed to say that on a Mormon blog? Sure hope so, because there are other words I have that I guarantee you are worse), but the man sure can sing.

And I also wonder what 20 more years of space and experience will teach me about what I wanted vs. what was best for me. I’m looking forward to it, actually.

How do you handle unanswered prayers in your life?

About Heather Oman

(Prose Board) lives in the south with her husband, her two kids, and her wiggly black lab. She is a licensed speech language pathologist, but spends most of her days trying to teach her own kids how to say please and thank you. She is a member of the Segullah Editorial Board, and is the founding member of the blog Mormon Mommy Wars.

28 thoughts on “Unanswered Prayers”

  1. i have really been pondering this the past few years. we talk so much of being blessed for our obedience, but for many of us, the exact desires of our hearts may not ever be fulfilled in this life. and that is hard. it stinks sometimes.

    i like how you said that faith is moving forward even when prayers go unanswered. i think that is our refining moment in the fire.

  2. When my son was younger I actually had a person, of authority and leadership over me, instruct me that my faith was not string enough, otherwise my then very ill son would have been healed.

    That "healing" took over 6 years, but it did come, and then go, and in the long run we have come to see how his very odd, very rare situation has actually been a blessing in not just a few ways.

    That said, while one walks through the trial, it isn't always easy to remember that brighter things are on the horizon.

    I now witness my grown children having to wait on the Lord for His timing and it breaks my heart to see righteous requests and desires "go unanswered". I remind myself that they are not so much unanswered as they are answered in a way I cannot or do not understand or want. I have also been able to somewhat develop "eyes" that can see that although my answer may be "not, not yet" there is usually a God sent "but in the meantime, how about this?" which helps.

  3. Don'tknow how much validity there is in the following which I came across – but again its because of this limited mortality sight we all have.

    "God never leaves prayers unanswered. He says "yes" or "not yet" or "I have a better idea".

    Its the faith to accept the last that can be the most challenging.

  4. I have to say I agree with Sharon L. I don't think there are unanswered prayers. We might not get the answer we want or in the time we want to receive it, but I do believe God answers all of our prayers.

    I look back at several instances where God answered no in my life (including in regards to which law school my husband would attend, or to which school program a daughter would attend this year). In the former I can now see God's plan for us and think where we ended up was better. In the latter, I still don't understand, but trust that He can see things I cannot and that what we ended up with will be the best experience for her. It may not be the easiest or most pleasant, but it will be the best for the growth she needs.

    I agree that it has gotten easier for me to trust as I've gotten older.

    The Bible Dictionary has one of my favorite passages regarding prayer, which helps me remember that prayer isn't just about asking for what I want, but seeking to truly commune with Father in Heaven and listen to what I ought to be asking for in the first place. Some of my most meaningful prayers have been those where I've been inspired as to what to say.

    From the LDS Bible Dictionary:

    "As soon as we learn the true relationship in which we stand toward God (namely, God is our Father, and we are his children), then at once prayer becomes natural and instinctive on our part (Matt. 7:7–11). Many of the so-called difficulties about prayer arise from forgetting this relationship. Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God, but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant, but that are made conditional on our asking for them. Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. Prayer is a form of work, and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings."

    Good topic.

  5. "Maybe that’s what faith really is. Moving forward even when our prayers go unanswered and the path is unclear. To know that God is listening, even when you feel like your prayers are fading into unresponsive air."

    What I needed, after much frustration in the past little while.

    And music is so often full of unexpected answers.

    Thank you!

  6. Not to be a stinker but I don't think there are unanswered prayers. I think sometimes the answer is "no" or "wait" or "you decide." I think we mistake those answers for no answer. Of course thouse answers still take a lot of faith to receive.

  7. I think an "unanswered prayer" is one where the answer is "no." Just a wording thing. And if that is the case, I have experienced many of those and for some of those "no's," I am grateful. But not all.

  8. LOVED this!

    For answers to prayer over the years I have gotten "Yes", "No", "Yes, but not right now" (seriously–those were the EXACT words) and what I would term "the stare" which is probably as close to an unanswered prayer as I can think–it's when I don't get a clearly defined or understandable reply to my pleadings. The times when I've gotten "the stare" are most often times when I've asked for something that either isn't in my best interest (which I don't usually come to accept for awhile) or when I ask something without enough information on my end (like when I asked if it was right for me to serve a mission BEFORE my husband-to-be came along and changed all of the variables) or when I am asking God to do something for me or make a decision for me that I need to do for myself–that "study it out in your mind" part.

    How do I handle unanswered prayers? I try to just keep coming back–in prayer, in scripture study, in faithfulness. It is hard but I have found great compensatory blessings from the Lord that help me cope with life when it doesn't go how I want, as long as I keep coming back to him.

  9. "Prayer is a form of work"…..hmmm… hadn't thought about it that way before.I am, however, very familiar with "the stare", and really hate it when it comes!!

  10. Over the years, my prayers have changed. I used to ask for things, things I thought were "righteous" and thus deserved. Now I just talk with God — all the time. I am always thanking him for whatever is in front of me or inside of me at the moment, even the challenging things. Prayer is certainly a kind of discipline (work?) but it is pure joy for me. I rarely ask for anything because how do I know what to ask for? What I've learned is that God DOES answer our prayers and my task is to ask for the right thing. Because it IS true that the asking is critical to getting what we want. And what I want is to align my will with God's. When I take the talk-to-God time to figure that out, sometimes over the course of years, I sometimes have the indescribable and sacred experience of KNOWING that my prayer request is heard and approved, in the moment that I ask. I experience that alignment of wills in that moment. And there is nothing sweeter than to be one with God.

  11. "Maybe that’s what faith really is. Moving forward even when our prayers go unanswered and the path is unclear. To know that God is listening, even when you feel like your prayers are fading into unresponsive air."

    Beautiful. Learning to trust God is both the hardest and the sweetest process for me.

  12. there have been a few instances in my life when i've (not so reverently even) made what i'd almost dub a "bullet list" of demands…eg: the night i told god that if it matters at all to him that i stay in the church then these (nine) specific conditions would need to be met by the next morning by the time i'd need to leave.

    miraculously, they were. all nine. so here i am.

    or the time i had a surprise party scheduled at my house in 5 hours and had a huge list of things that had to be done beforehand (it was a "while you were out" room make-over for my daughter…i was in the throes of construction mess, to say nothing of getting cleaned up and having party foods/cake ready. i was in way over my head). I said "i don't need everything to be perfect, just the bare minimum, which would include X, Y, Z, etc. and then five minutes later my doorbell rang and my neighbor was standing there with his miter saw, asking if i needed any help with the moulding, or assembling the wardrobes. i'd mentioned to him over a month before that i might be doing some remodeling and wondered if he had a miter saw….and he picked that moment to follow up. coincidence? i don't think so because within another 10 minutes a different neighbor stopped by and asked if i'd like her to help with the cake. and so on and so forth.

    five hours later it was just enough done that everything looked great, and all went off well. life-altering? no. would it have been the end of the world if it hadn't gotten finished? no. but it mattered to me. and i had been reminded that all things are spiritual unto god, and that he WANTS us to ask. he wants us to receive. sometimes that has worked out very specifically. other times, i feel like i'm talking to myself. but i know he's listening, and that with patience things will move in the right direction~ like the moment the tide stops pulling out to sea and there's that subtle shift where it starts coming into shore again…it's imperceptible, but sometimes that's how answers come. it just takes time. and waiting upon the lord.

    sadly, it's often the times when it's URGENT that it seems like there's the most radio silence. i'm sorry for all those who haven't had any experiences that have proven for them that god is listening. i believe you will, if you keep pressing forward. til then, maybe recruit someone else to listen and be there for you. many of my prayers have been answered by friends who were attuned when i wasn't. we can be saviors for each other in times when we are walking in the dark. it is often whilst IN the dark walking toward the light that we find our god. hang in there!

  13. This is a beautiful post, for many, many reasons. I know this line isn't the most important in the essay, but it's my favorite:

    /bigger than praying for a date for the homecoming dance (which may or may not be categorized as a righteous desire. I suppose it depends on the dress?)/

    (Sorry for my lack of html quote skills.)

    Like Blue, I'm grateful for all the little miracles that show me that God is listening. When I don't see things happening on some of my big desires (is it too late to find a husband before the biological clock runs out?), I know it isn't because I haven't figured out how to pray, or because God isn't listening. That makes it much easier to trust Him.

    Of course, maybe in the eternal scheme of things, waiting on a big thing is really just a little thing.

  14. What gets me through the times when I'm not getting a definite yes/no answer are all the times in the past when the definite answer took God's timing to come and how amazing it was when it came.

    I knew at 19 that I would get married. Twelve years later I did. If I had been allowed to plan it, it wouldn't be nearly as amazing as it is.

    Now we're waiting on another definite answer while the current answer is "yes, but not now."

    And like before, while I'm waiting I'm keeping my metaphorical feet moving. I know it's easier for God to direct me where to go if I've already got some forward momentum to carry me.

  15. I think that we have to keep our eyes opened to all the tender mercies He sends while we're waiting on an answer (or during the time it takes us to hear the answer).

  16. I don't think there are ever unanswered prayers, because they do get answers. In the song, the prayer was answered with a no.

    But yeah, when I go back home, it always comes home to me how grateful I am for my amazing and wonderful husband.

  17. I think some of the hardest things to accept is when it's a righteous desire we're praying for, but for God to grant it would mean agency would be forfeited.

    Some of the toughest, debilitating and amazing answers to prayers I've had haven't been yes, or no or not yet, but "I'm sorry, but I can't".

  18. I'm with Kellie–I think sometimes the answer is "I can't/I won't". Last year I prayed a lot for my marriage to be saved, and the only answer I got was "it's not going to be, but you will be OK". That was hard; I had to hear the answer a few times in order to accept it. But, it was good to realize that God heard me, knew what was going on in my life, and was going to help me. That also made it easier to move on and accept what was happening in my life, rather than being paralyzed by wanting something different.

  19. For me, it's been incredibly difficult to pray for blessings I've already been promised (a husband and children) and then to watch time pass by and realize that it's too late for at least one of those promises to be fulfilled. It's hard to reconcile a verbalized "yes" with an actual "no." Nothing has shaken my faith like this has… still trying to figure it all out.

  20. I too try to make sure I ask for the right thing. Over the last few years, I have realized that Heavenly Father's plan for me is so much better than what I would choose. I most often find myself praying for blessings for others. The work part of receiving answers is doing everything I can to see that those blessings I seek become a reality and then working hard to be obedient in every aspect of my life. Then leave the rest to the Lord. No, I am not perfect but thinking about what I need to do to be obedient and worthy to receive answers helps me to be better.

  21. Blue. Wow. Thank you.

    Kellie, this was profound: "Some of the toughest, debilitating and amazing answers to prayers I’ve had haven’t been yes, or no or not yet, but “I’m sorry, but I can’t”."


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