(ICYMI: This post ran earlier this week over at Club31Women, a place where you’ll find insight and encouragement about all things family and faith.)
If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times: Stop trying to figure God out.
That’s what my kids tell me anyway, whenever they see me agonizing over why God seems to be taking so long. Or when I wrestle with the pain of unanswered prayers. Or when things just don’t look like I wanted them to.
I remember one particularly gut-wrenching season, one where God said no to something I wanted for my child—something she wanted even more than I did, something we both believed would be good. I knew God was for us, that his plan was for hope, and that his good purpose would always prevail. Why, then, was my stomach in knots? Shouldn’t someone who’d spent twenty-five years writing and speaking about prayer be filled with more faith?
I cried out to the Lord. And in case you think you have to sound “holy” or “good enough” when you pray, I’ll just go ahead and tell you what I wrote in my journal that day.
“God, I said, “I feel so lame. I really am trying to trust you. I know you love me, and that I shouldn’t be sad—”
(Have you ever been interrupted by God? Because I think that’s what happened to me as I prayed.)
It’s okay, I sensed God say. Go ahead and grieve. Your sadness is real. Bring it to me, and let me comfort you.
Press into God’s Presence
Talk about a perspective changer! There I was, trying to push my disappointment and pain into a manhole and put the cover on, and God said not to. He wanted me to come to him, just like I want my kids to come to me when they are hurting or confused. And I realized that day, as I essentially climbed into God’s lap and let the tears come, that I had it all backward.
I thought disappointment, sadness, and anger were bad things, things that had no place in the life of a “real” Christian. But when they invite us to press into God—to climb into our heavenly Father’s embrace—our heartaches and unanswered prayers become agents of connection. They become places where God can showcase his tenderness as he heals our hearts and binds up our wounds.
We don’t need to know how something works in order to trust it (if we did, I would never get on an airplane again). We don’t need to figure God out. And we don’t need to deny our distress. All we need to do—all we can do—in the face of disappointment or unanswered prayers is to press into God’s presence, knowing that he powerful enough to do more than all we can ask or imagine and loving enough to want to.
That’s exactly what David did. Psalm 13 chronicles his journey from feeling weary and abandoned (“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?”) to the place where he could rejoice, knowing that God had been (and would be) good to him. We can do the same thing, taking our questions—and our pain—to the Lord, asking him to comfort us as we stake our trust in his unfailing love.
Here’s a simple, but powerful, prayer we can borrow. It’s one Moses prayed during a long season when all of Israel may have wondered whether or not God heard their prayers…
Have compassion on me. Satisfy me in the morning with your unfailing love, that I may sing for joy and be glad all my days. (Psalm 90:13-14)
You can read more about trusting God in the face of unanswered prayers (and discover how to pray about 30 other real-life issues) in my new book, Praying the Scriptures for Your Life: 31 Days of Abiding in the Presence, Provision, and Power of God. The book releases June 8th; click here to pre-order.
And psst… Preorders get exclusive access to some nifty bonuses, including five 5-minute video devotions (“Five for Five”) and a series of intimate “Conversations on Prayer” with some folks you will recognize!