stories of our life together on the road home
Making Peace with Unanswered Prayer
I felt my watch buzz and glanced down at the notification: Your heart has been elevated over 120 beats per minute for over 10 minutes and you don’t appear to be moving. A warning sign from my body that something wasn’t right. But I already knew that. I sat still in the courtroom, heart pounding, waiting for the Lord to answer my desperate prayers one more time.
But before I tell you how he did, I have to tell you why I had faith he would. In March of 2020 as the world shut down, my world was falling apart. The discovery of my husband’s affair two months earlier was not as surprising as it should have been but knocked me off my feet all the same. Then he moved out the week before the shutdown, and I was left to navigate NTI for a first grader and kindergartener while herding twin two-year-olds and nursing my own broken heart. It was as terrible as it sounds.
And yet, the Lord was near. He was near to me in my brokenness and showed up in tangible ways over and over, answering prayer after prayer. He answered prayers through a friend building me a make-shift fence to help contain my twins in the backyard while their brothers did their school work, through iced coffee and chocolate chip cookies mysteriously showing up on my doorstep, gift cards for DoorDash and GrubHub, and a sister from church paying someone to mow my grass every week that summer. He made himself known to me in the women on my front lawn at 10pm weeping and praying with me 6 feet apart. God was near through the over 40 women who signed up to pray for me daily that April when I was still hoping God would restore my marriage, and as I unwillingly walked the road toward divorce.
Over the two years that followed the initial shut down of the pandemic, I continued to pray. The Lord didn’t save my marriage the way I begged him to do, but I could see so clearly his fingerprints in the details of our divorce. He gave me the right steps to take at the right times. I knew I had done everything I could to save my marriage, and in my suffering God was bringing healing and hope. He was protecting my kids and keeping us together, and every time we went to mediation or court I had battalions of women going into battle with me.
The Lord was with me, I was certain. My certainty in both his sovereignty and his goodness were the anchors that stayed with me as my husband, now living with the other woman, fought for 50/50 custody of our children. After so many years of parenting on my own, even when I was married and begging him to participate in our family, he suddenly wanted the kids half the time to play family with someone else. I was angry and hurt, and so sure the Lord would have none of it. I could feel the injustice of it in my bones.
Psalm 64 became the frequent cry of my heart. I felt with David the “aim of cruel words like deadly arrows” and the plotting of injustice in my life. For two years I prayed, and the Lord clearly answered.
Until the day he didn’t.
Which takes us back to the courtroom. I sat there, heart pounding. After hours of deliberation and listening to the father of my children lie and exaggerate, it seemed like the judge was seeing through it. In the moment before I felt the floor fall beneath me, I felt a surge of hope and relief. She was pointing out his inconsistencies. She seemed to be agreeing with me. And then, in what felt like the most flippant of decisions, she gave him 50/50.
I’m not sure I have any good answers for what we do when God doesn’t answer what feels like the most desperate and important of our prayers, or when his answer is to wait, or he says no. It has been one year, almost to the day, since the decision was made in that courtroom that I only get to parent my kids half the time for the rest of their childhood. A year later I still don’t know why God didn’t protect my kids from that decision. It still doesn’t seem like what is best for them, or for me. A deep sense of injustice still takes up space in my soul that another woman gets to tuck my children into bed, and that I won’t be with them on Christmas this year. The day is coming soon when I won’t get to spend a birthday with them. When my daughters cry that they want more sleeps at mommy’s house, I have to say goodbye anyway. For one of my kids in particular, this past year has been especially difficult with really big emotions and anxiety that grew exponentially after the switch to a 50/50 schedule, and so many of my prayers have been wrestling with how this could possibly be God’s best for us. How could my kids only being allowed to go to church every other week be what is best?
How could I have been so confident in the Lord’s protection and care for me, and then have things go so sideways? How can I have confidence and faith in the Lord and believe that my prayers matter, but not expect to bend him to my will with just the right words and position of my heart? In the past year I have become more at ease with the tension of living in a fallen and broken world while being known and loved by a sovereign God who is always good. I am learning to make peace with the questions I don’t have answers to, and to trust that while I cannot see the good in what feels like an unanswered prayer, God has not stopped being good to me, and he has not stopped being good to my kids. I am okay with being both heartbroken over my losses and confident the Lord is moving in ways I can’t see. I am trying not to feel like I need to add a caveat to my prayers just in case I am disappointed.
As I search for God in the midst of heartache, a prayer from Every Moment Holy, Vol. 2: Death, Grief & Hope has stood out to me. In his liturgy titled “Embracing both Joy and Sorrow”, Douglas McKelvey writes:
So give me strength, O God, to feel this grief
deeply, never to hide my heart from it. And give
me also hope enough to remain open to
surprising encounters with joy,
as one on a woodland path might stumble
suddenly into dapplings of golden light.
Amidst the pain that lades these days,
give me courage, O Lord; courage to live them
fully, to love and to allow myself to be loved,
to remember, grieve, and honor what was,
to live with thanksgiving in what is, and
to invest in the hope of what will be.
Be at work gilding these long heartbreaks
with the advent of new joys, good friendships,
true fellowships, unexpected delights. Remind
me again and again of your goodness, your
presence, your promises.
I remember feeling like there was no way forward in the summer of 2020, and that any step in any direction would send me hurtling off a cliff. Three years later I see that it was God’s kindness that brought me out of a marriage I never would have chosen to leave to someone who never would have been faithful. I couldn’t see then how any good could come out of the brokenness. Now I’m learning to trust anew to look for the evidence of resurrection after death. I am learning how to parent my children with open hands, and that it isn’t my ability to curate the perfect childhood I had envisioned for them that is their salvation, but Christ alone. I’m asking him to bear much fruit in their lives even though I can’t control things like how often they come to church and if they feel connected the way I want them to. I’m learning to stay soft towards the Lord and finding that in sorrow there is an invitation to know Jesus with a new depth and fullness that I might have missed without an acute knowledge of my need for him. I am learning it is good to sit with the hard feelings, and that pain and sorrow can co-exist in perfect harmony with joy and peace. I can be desperately sad and full of hope.
Anna Goodner has been a Sojourn member for 16 years, and has been a member at East since 2019. She is a mom of 4, and likes to listen to audiobooks, write poetry, swim, and lift weights in her free time.