I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how God answers prayer.
During my senior year of college I visited a junior high youth group where my friend was serving. The youth pastor’s message that night was on how God answers prayer. At one point during his talk, in typical youth pastor fashion he yelled to the kids, “And what are the four ways that God answers prayer?!” And they of course, immediately shouted back, “No! No! Yes! Yes!” They seemed to all know the four ways. And I thought to myself in that moment, “Well, then by all means! Tell me!”
Here’s what the youth pastor had taught them…
No. No. Yes. Yes.
“No. I love you too much.”
“No. Not now, wait.”
“Yes. I thought you’d never ask.”
“Yes. And so much more.”
Pretty cool huh? Kind of a pre-Ann Voskamp, 1000 gifts-esque idea. The idea that there is an “I love you too much,” or a “Not now, wait” behind every “No” God sends our way. The idea that we can actually trust Him in everything…even the No’s in our lives.
It is one thing to hear this on the floor of a church surrounded by a bunch of squirrely 12-year-olds deep in the throes of junior high. It’s another thing to live this out deep in the throes of life. To live this out when my arms ache for my baby. To live this out when the first thing I woke up to this morning was my sweet Emma saying, “Mommy, I feel sick. My heart hurts about Charlie.” To live this out when I see newborn baby boys everywhere around me.
To live this out when I see God’s “Yes” in other people’s lives, at the exact same moment I am trying to walk with God through a very big “No” in mine.
Not a day goes by when I don’t cry out to God asking Him “Why?” Why did Charlie die? Why do we have to walk through this deep valley of suffering and pain? Why is this the story God has written for our lives? On a cosmic level I already know the answer…Adam and Eve didn’t trust God’s heart and listen to His voice. They ate that shiny apple and now here we all are dying from the very moment we begin life. Here we all are fighting daily against our own sin of not trusting His heart and listening to His voice.
But on a much more personal level, I want to know why we are hurting. Why something so painful has come our way. I want to know why God said “No” about something I wanted so very badly. Because when God says “No” to our prayers…that is when we really question “Why.” Everybody loves God’s “Yes.” I’ve also asked God about the Yes’s in my life. “God, why did you let me have another day with Emma, Fred, and Sophie? Why did you chose for me to marry Reid and give us another precious day of life?” We also bring those “Why’s” to God. But those are short conversations because Yes is easy. Easy to hear. Easy to praise. Easy to receive.
It’s the No’s that bring the searing pain.
It’s the No’s that knock the wind out of you and take your breath away.
It’s the No’s that test your faith.
Honestly, some days all I can hear is the “No.” No…and then deafening silence. No…and then the aching quiet of straining to hear something. Anything. Sometimes I feel so angry about the No. How loud the No of death is. How cold the door of death looks when it’s slammed in your shocked face. It’s just two little letters, but it packs quite the punch when a No comes into your life.
Some days I don’t even feel much consolation in the “Not now, wait.” Even though I know that that’s what life actually is. One big journey to Heaven where I will finally meet my baby boy. Life, for all of us, is one big, “Not now, wait.” I look at this fallen, broken world all around me, where 27 million people (mostly children) woke up this morning to another horrific day as someone’s slave. A world where people say, “I love you” and “I do.” And then…don’t. A world where no matter how much money we have, we cannot find the cure to cancer, or world hunger, or a million other gnawing pains. A world where mommies have to bury children and children have to bury mommies…does it even matter really who is doing the burying? Life is just full suffering. And in all of this…Heaven waits.
And for Heaven we wait. We, who know Jesus, wait with longing for the day, when all the No’s of this world…will finally be made “Yes” in Christ. I wait for the day when I will finally hear God’s Yes to knowing and living life with my baby boy. But for now, it’s “Not now…wait.”
And some days, on the worst days, I can’t even hear the “I love you” after the No. But deep down, I know it is always there.
I keep thinking about Jesus on the cross. How wrong it must have felt to those who loved Him most to see Him hanging there in pain. How earlier that week Peter even tried rebuking Jesus for suggesting such a crazy thing would soon be happening. And I’m sure that on the cross as Jesus looked down into John’s anguished face He saw His friend thinking,“Jesus! You are God! Just end this. Take yourself off the cross and put these wretched people in their place!” In that moment, I really believe Jesus replied, with his eyes if not His voice, “No…I love you too much.” “No, not now…wait.”
The cross is the only place where we can make sense of the overwhelming brokenness of life. Where God gives us His greatest reminder that there is an “I love you too much” behind every No in our lives.
I know there is an “I love you” even for this No in my life. I don’t mean that God loved us too much to give us Charlie. It’s not that cut and dry. It’s more that “I love you” is what comes with the “No.” It doesn’t answer everything or take all the pain away. It’s more that He loves all of us too much to give us everything just the way we want it, when we want it in our lives. That would be heaven. And for heaven, we wait. For me, for now, the No is Charlie. But there has been, and will be other No‘s. In my life. And in your life.
Will we trust Him? Will we strain until our ears hurt to hear what comes after His every No? Will we search the Bible until our eyes ache…so intent are we on seeing God’s “I love you too much” hidden in every story on every page?
Will we live like THAT…until the glorious Day when there is finally no more, “Not now, wait…”