The Sting of Unanswered Prayers


Sometimes, the answer is simply “no.”

Every school has that one professor who is renowned for the breadth and depth of their knowledge. Sharp minds and sharp tongues frequently travel in packs. My second year of law school, I voluntarily subjected myself to such a professor, Professor George Pugh.

On the first day of class, I chose a seat toward the edge of the classroom – tucked safely out of the line of fire. So, I thought. By this time, Professor Pugh was later in his years and was losing his eyesight. Unbeknownst to me, his central vision was declining, but his peripheral vision was as sharp as his mind – and his tongue; and, I found myself in his line of vision and his line of fire.

One day, Professor Pugh asked the class a “yes/no” question. Being one of the few students he could see, he called on me to answer the question. Yes.

My ears still sting with the thick, Southern drawl of Professor Pugh’s reply, “This is a fast-moving train, Ms. Rudd. The shorter … and more correct answer … would be …NO.”


The embarassing sting of giving the wrong answer is nothing compared to the prick of getting the wrong answer. When we are on the receiving end of “no” it cuts ever so much deeper.

Take away the cancer. No.
Save the marriage. No.
Stop the bankruptcy. No.
Oh, dear God, please save my baby girl. No.

I have felt the power of answered prayers. So, I know that sometimes the answer is Yes. Why not always a yes? Did I not pray hard enough? Did someone with a competing petition “out pray” me? There was no static on the line. There were no dropped calls. The pleas of my heart were clear and fervent. God knows what I wanted but he didn’t step in. He didn’t intervene. He didn’t exercise his sovereign power to my will.

As my knees buckled with the news that God hadn’t granted my plea, my heart hit the floor and shattered. I’m still looking for the missing pieces and am pretty much resigned that they are lost forever.

What do you do when the reply isn’t healing? What do you do when the response isn’t the one that you expected? The answers aren’t to your liking. I don’t even know most of you and I don’t like it when the responses result in disease, death, or despair. I pray that you’d be free of strife and disease, but sometimes that isn’t the answer.

Why me? Why not me? Sometimes, we end up saying “good miss” about an unanswered prayer. Other times, “no” is just too big to ever be seen as “good” this side of heaven. If God himself sidled up next to me to answer why, it would fly right past me. First, I’d likely be paralyzed with awe and not hear a word He’d say. Equally as likely, I’d be paralyzed by the limits of my own humanity and not understand a word He’d say. And, if by some chance, I heard and understood – knowing and understanding wouldn’t take away the pain. I’d still miss Brooke. We’d still feel the sting of rejection and loss. Knowing why isn’t a huge help. Why just leads to another why. Why did it have to be this way? Why couldn’t it have been that way? Why us? Why not them? Why anyone?

When we shift the question from why to what, though, something extraordinary occurs. Healing begins. Restoration commences.

Earlier this week, I was reminded of the beautiful Japanese art of kintsugi -loosely translated – “golden joinery.” The artisan uses precious metals (silver, gold, platinum) or lacquer painted with precious metal dust to piece back together broken pottery. The gaps of missing shards are filled and smoothed. The resulting piece, with its golden scars on full display, is considered more beautiful and more valuable than the original.

God is the ultimate kintsugi artisan. God doesn’t need all of the pieces to wrench good from our broken circumstances. His promises caulk the cracks of our broken hearts. His hope fills and smooths gaps in our saddened souls.

How do we handle hardship? – hand over the shards, slivers, and shreds of our shattered souls. Let the Artisan transform those fragments into beauty. Let the Artisan mend our tattered seams. Let the Light shimmer across our sacred scars.

What can we do with our crippling circumstances? What can You do with our somber situations? C. S. Lewis once said, “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” I guess it depends on how you define “extraordinary.” And, most of us would choose ordinary over hardship any day. Regardless, there is truth to Lewis’ statement.

Hardship sows compassion. Compassion reaps connection. When we connect with one another through our sorrow, then we become the conduit for healing. We become the kintsugi artisans. When we are a part of another’s healing – even if in only a token way – we become part of the extraordinary.

God is big enough for our whys. He wants our whats.


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