Why Does God Delay Answering My Prayers?
Part II of II
Dear Father John,
Two of my college educated sons have been out of work for several years. Fortunately, both wives work. What happens typically is that our hopes get raised when they get called in for an interview, are asked to come back, and then another invitation follows for additional meetings. Then the news comes saying they chose someone else. The emotional roller-coaster is brutal. My prayer to God has been that I will pay any price that needs to be paid for them to get jobs as long as He doesn’t tell me in advance what He will ask. I am at a loss to understand why nothing seems to break for them. I know that God often delays answering prayers. I also know the value of redemptive suffering. I am beginning to grow concerned that their faith will weaken because of what seems like disinterest from God. You have written about redemptive suffering before. But what do you say when God appears to delay in giving any succor, especially when the request is to be able to take care of your family. I know God cherishes the family, especially when it is under such attack. It seems like nothing is coming from heaven to support them. Please help me find something to say to them so they don’t lose faith and hope in this relentless phase of struggle and ongoing disappointment.
In our first post, we discussed reasons why God may not always answer our prayers right away, even though our families are suffering greatly. Also, a few practical tips were given to help in our spiritual development during these times of suffering.
When a Mother’s Love Feels Helpless
But you also asked a second question. What can you tell your sons, what can you do for them, so that their faith does not fail? You are going to like my answer to this question even less than my answer to your first question. Let me begin by quoting Our Lord’s words to St. Peter at the end of the Gospel of John, when Peter asked Jesus what was going to happen to the other disciple (St. John): “What about him, Lord?” St. Peter wanted to know what was in store for the younger disciple, maybe because he cared so much about him and was concerned for him. And Jesus responds curtly, “If I want him to stay behind till I come, what does it matter to you? You are to follow me” (John 21:22). Jesus curbs Peter’s concern and anxiety, telling him to stay focused on his own discipleship and to trust that Jesus will take care of the rest.
Your mother’s heart yearns to comfort your sons, to save them from suffering, to surround them with light and warmth and success. This is right, this is healthy, this is true. And yet, ultimately, you cannot determine how they will respond to God’s grace. As much as you want to assure that they keep the faith and seek God and grow in holiness, you cannot. You can only do your part. In the end, each of your sons is responsible for his relationship with God. Each of your sons is responsible for how he will deal with the present crisis. Each is free to grow in patience, humility, wisdom, and courage, or to rebel against a God who loves us so much that he refuses to spare us from hardship: “… for the Lord trains those he loves, and chastises every son he accepts” (Hebrews 12:6).
Learning to Let Go and Let God
When your sons were smaller, you could control their environment and even their reactions more directly. They were more dependent on you. But now you can only influence them and their circumstances indirectly. Peacefully accepting the limitations of your influence will give great glory to God, because it will bring your trust in God to a new level. And even if one of your sons does rebel against God in the midst of this trial, through prayer and trust you should maintain your interior peace, even as you offer to God the suffering you may experience. After all, even a violent rebellion isn’t the end of the story – the story only ends on Judgment Day.
Remember, God loves your sons even more than you do, and he will honor your love for them far more than you can imagine, as long as it is a pure love, as long as your love for God and your trust in him stay in first place. So continue to do what you can to support and encourage your sons and help them bear their crosses, through your prayers, your example, and whatever words and deeds circumstances permit you. But relinquish in your heart and mind – as many times as necessary – the control you wish you had. It is not up to you to save them, but only to be an instrument of God’s grace to whatever extent he permits. God is God; we are not God. And with God on our side, “who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). “We are well aware that God works with those who love him, those who have been called in accordance with his purpose, and turns everything to their good” (Romans 8:28). That is our assurance, that is our hope, that is our rock and our refuge.
I will pray for you and for your family, and I would ask our other readers to do so as well.
Art for this post asking Why Does God Delay?: Nossa Senhora das Dores (Our Lady of Pains or Our Lady of Sorrows), Domingos Sequeira (1768-1837), 18th to 19th century, PD-US, Wikimedia Commons.