A few months after Mason died, I received an email from a close friend asking for our prayers. Her father had been fighting cancer for several years and was going through a particularly rough patch. When we heard back from her a few days later, her dad was greatly improved and she wanted to thank us for our prayers.
As she put it, “Your prayers worked.” Her innocent words of gratitude had landed like a punch in the gut. Had our prayers helped save the life of a man we barely knew when they couldn’t save the life of our own child?
Prayer had always been something that I did with great care and sense of purpose. It was my heartfelt petition to a loving God to take care of things that were beyond my control (and they were many). Please, God, keep our children safe and healthy and happy. Please, Dear God, let our lives be full of abundance, our hearts full of love and our souls full of wisdom. And I always felt better for it, after all, I had no reason to think that a well-intentioned prayer would not be heard or go unanswered.
Talking to God brought me peace. But there was another reason for my prayers. Prayer was my attempt to bring God’s attention to that which was important in my life. I was micro-managing my little corner of the world, or so I thought. When we pray for something (be it the life of a loved one or our team winning the series) and it comes to pass, we feel our prayers have been answered and we have been blessed. But it’s another story when our prayers go unanswered. So many people had been praying for Mason; his family, friends, coworkers, and people who didn’t even know him but knew of him. But our prayers were not answered. Did we use the wrong words or not follow the correct protocol? Did we need more signatures on the petition? I had asked, begged for Mason’s survival. Either prayer had failed me or I had failed prayer.
Not all prayers are answered, this we know. If they were, no one would ever die, all teams would be winners and the sun would always shine gently on our fields. But why would God answer some prayers and not others? Now when I hear someone say that their prayers were answered, I cringe inside. They could be referring to something profound or frivolous, it doesn’t matter, because what I hear is, ‘God heard our prayers and answered them. We were blessed’. But is it wise to give credit to the act of praying for the blessings received? If we look beyond our selves for a moment, we see a world that has more than enough pain and suffering to go around. Can we truly believe that we’ve been chosen to have our prayers answered while so many other desperate, heartfelt prayers go unanswered? Are we special, possibly more deserving? To me, this implies that prayers (and people) are judged, weighed and measured and sorted into piles marked worthy and not worthy, blessed and not blessed. That doesn’t seem likely, nor does it seem like the act of a loving God. I have no doubt that God hears us, but I question if he’s handing out answers to our prayers like gifts to good boys and girls. I think it’s more likely that he listens patiently like a kindly father, smiles, and then lets life unfold as it was always meant to be. We may disagree, after all, children don’t always see the big picture.
Prayer hadn’t failed me. I had failed prayer. My perception was flawed. I no longer believe that prayers are meant to be answered. I believe in God’s blessings but not in response to my asking. Prayer is not a directive. It’s an expression from our soul to our source. We all receive God’s grace and love, even in our darkest hours. What better way to feel that love and return that love than in prayer.
As I sit in meditation in the quiet of early morning, I pray with heartfelt gratitude for my life, what it was and what it is, and I am always brought to tears. I cry because life is so beautiful and tender and sometimes so sad and cruel. I cry because I feel held and anchored in love, cared for and safe. Not because my prayers have been answered, but because I know God has a plan and loves us all equally. That is the answer to a prayer unspoken.