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Pebbles, Potholes, and PerspectiveFinding Faith to Pray when Prayers Go Unanswered
by Sarah Hancock
Recently a friend asked what the point of praying was if God had his own will. How can you pray when you have no faith that those prayers will be answered. Or worse, when you have seen that as life unfolds they simply aren’t answered. You don’t have to live with mental illness to feel like your prayers aren’t heard. Unfortunately that’s a common feeling of many. I’ve felt it too.
But please, don’t confuse the seeming loud silence of unanswered prayers with Heavenly Father’s steady work to answer your prayers in glorious, unimaginable ways. Remember, the BEST is yet to come. We live our lives forgetting that as eternal beings, our lives are actually a three act playi. That being said, some feel that this life is merely something to endure until that glorious day, but President Hinckley said that “Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured.”ii Well if that is true, why on earth can life be such a devastating disaster? There is no easy answer. But let me share with you how I found peace in the middle of despair.
Pray with honesty. Be sincere. It’s okay to question God when you listen for those answers with the hope that he will answer them. The answers are rarely what we expect, but they are always heading us towards something better—sometimes that better just takes a really long time to happen. The answers come, slower at times than others. But they will come.
When I am most symptomatic, that is when all my failures come back to beat up on me. I think that’s the same for all of us. Symptoms can really take a toll. It’s hard. I have walked that lonely, desperate road many times.
Let me share with you something I've learned. It’s a combination of two quotes I cannot find a reference for—more like sayings. It is this: Your windshield is larger than your rear view mirror for a reason, stare out the front with an occasional glance to the past and you can see how far you've come. Stare in the rear view mirror for too long and you'll steam roll through the important and exciting things which lie ahead—completely missing them.
Don't compare yourself to others. When living with mental illness, or an acquired disability of any nature, what can be worse is comparing yourself to who you used to be before the illness (or incident) struck. Instead, compare yourself to who you were yesterday and make a small adjustment to be a little better today--even if that change is simply taking a shower and making your bed. You have the power to make that change. Even the slightest, smallest good change will completely alter your destiny, just like changing the degree on an airline’s route or the millimeter’s change in a railroad’s track. You will arrive at a completely new and refreshing destination.
It might look really awful right now. I know. I was in "that place" from 97-2010. But I promise you, your prayers are heard. Life does get better. It seems impossible—because it is—for now. It will not always be that way. You are not praying wrong. I can say that from the time I got home from my mission, I prayed I'd find a good priesthood holder who could take me to the temple. For 15 years I prayed for that. Then in 2010, it occurred to me that I'd met a host of "good priesthood holders who could take me to the temple." I realized I need to change the specifics of my prayer. I started praying that I would find the guy that heavenly Father had prepared me for and who had been prepared for me. I started praying that I could finish my preparation and that he could finish his preparation so that we could meet and get married. Gratefully five months later, I did meet him and we were married the latter part of 2011.
If you feel your faith is non-existent, cling to hope that things can change. If you need some hope, you can borrow mine until you find your own. God didn't send you here to fail. You are His child and He has a plan specific to you which is more glorious than comprehension. It's the prep phase that's the worst, but even during the prep phases, look for the good. A sunset. A warm cup of hot cocoa. The feeling after a good shower. Relish these moments and the many others which occur daily, often unnoticed. Savor them. Seek them out. They will carry you through till you can catch that vision of hope for yourself.
I kept looking at my life from all the things that I prayed for and didn't get:
A. I wanted into BYU as a Freshman. Nope. I got there as a Junior after attending Ricks College for 2 years where I made lifelong friends and enjoyed life-altering experiences unique to a small school in the middle of nowhere.
B. I wanted to be an EFY counselor. Nope. Come to find out, if I had, because there is so little sleep available to an EFY counselor, I probably would have had my first psychotic break much sooner if my prayers had been “answered.”
C. I wanted to be a Nauvoo performing missionary. Nope. Never figured that one out, but I am sure there was a good reason for it. Humidity and bugs of summer season?
D. I wanted to marry my high school sweetheart. Nope. Come to find out, he chose to leave the church and passed of cancer last year. Two things which broke my heart—even 20+ years after the fact.
E. I wanted to graduate with my bachelor's with my peers. Nope. I did graduate 5 years later.
F. I wanted to marry my fiancé. Nope. Come to find out he was abusive and gratefully broke up with me before that fully unfolded. My parents were relieved. But I'd been blinded by "love." Didn't make it any easier though.
G. Thought I would marry my next fiancé. Nope. Once his family found out about my illness they convinced him to leave me. I was devastated. But if he couldn't handle me in college, when I was still pretty functional, there is no WAY he would have been strong enough to handle the 12 years of psychotic/suicidal Hell that followed that break up—which means he wouldn’t have been around to enjoy me now with the nearly seven years of success, health, happiness and joy.
H. I wanted to go to graduate school. Enrolled, four times. Started once. Forced to stop because of the catatonia. Still had to pay off the student loan. The fourth time was a charm. Oddly, I was blessed to graduate without a penny of debt because I got essentially a full-ride scholarship for...drum roll please...living with schizoaffective disorder.
I. After graduating wanted to work with a specific company....got the job. Was essentially fired 6 weeks later because they found out about my illness. Got a better job—fit both my personality and my abilities better.
K. Wanted a job that paid more than entry level—I mean I have a master's degree, right? Got that job. Prayed so hard to get it. But the stress of it (and many other life stressors combined) that three weeks ago I had my first psychotic break in 7 or 8 years. Even then I thought the break meant my prayers were unanswered, but normally healing from a psychotic break can take up to a year. Some people have severe difficulty processing information and maintaining basic activities of daily living for even longer. (It’s like recovering from a stroke or other severe brain disturbance.) However, I can already see how I'm healing faster from this one than I ever have before. My doctor is stunned. I think I’ll be back in full-swing in a month or two. During this healing process, I've had time to re-evaluate how I want to use this silly degree of mine and come up with something that fits both my abilities and my personality. Keep your fingers crossed that this time I am aligning my will with the Lord's, not just demanding that he meet mine.
I guess my point is, I thought I knew what was best for me. I didn't. Life is full of unanswered prayers. Thank God for them! He's got something far better in mind for you. If I would have married any of those three guys I thought were the answer to my prayers, I would have missed out on the man of my dreams.
I prayed that I would have written and published my young adult novel by the time I was 30. Come to find out, I have a more important story to tell and have finally found my voice. It took a very special editor to see that and encourage it. I will forever be grateful for her.
If you can’t see how prayers are answered in your own life, look at the many tragedies (or so they certainly seemed at the time) and eventual triumphs in my life. Trust that because you are my spirit brother or sister, our heavenly parents have something equally exciting for you. Watch for it. In the meantime, keep praying and doing the best with what you have. It’s all God asks. He’ll take that, add his own divine mix and make things magical—both in this life and in the one to come.
Happy New Year. May this coming year be your best one yet. I’m counting on it.
i. Cook, Quenitn L. (2011) The Songs They Could Not Sing. General Conference—October (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2011/10/the-songs-they-could-not-sing?lang=eng).
ii. Hinckley, Gordon B. (1996) Stand True and Faithful. General Conference—April. (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1996/04/stand-true-and-faithful?lang=eng).
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