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Living without a miracle: What to do when your prayers aren't answered

Abbi King has heard many stories about how God has healed and delivered other people. But she's still waiting for her own miracle. Here, she reflects on what praising God looks like in times of difficulty, and why it's ok to admit that some prayers may never be answered 

My husband and I have been going through some difficult times these past few years, facing infertility and joblessness. I have often asked myself what happens if the miracle doesn’t come? Will my faith stand up to the disappointment, despair and heartbreak?

Throughout our difficult times loving and well-meaning family and friends have shared with us stories of other peoples’ miracles about infertile couples having children, with the aim to encourage us and remind us to stand firm – trusting that God will answer our prayers.

However, the answer to prayer has not happened for us and instead of encouraging me to hope, the shared stories of miracles only work to make me feel like a failure! Thinking that God isn’t interested in me, doesn’t want to bless me…or that I have not prayed hard enough, sung loud enough or trusted enough?

As a couple we have had some difficult conversations and made decisions about how life will be for us now, knowing that we will not be having our own child.

These conversations have been hard and we are grieving for a life we thought would be ours. However, we need to look forward and continue in our lives. There will always be a glimmer of hope inside me that maybe one day I will have my own child, but I also know that I can’t put my life on hold and wait for a miracle that may not be for us. Some may feel that I am a defeatist, that I do not have enough faith, but I think I am a realist and know that sometimes things just don’t work out the way we had hoped.

The Bible contains many stories of miracles; barren women giving birth, dead raised to life and people healed from debilitating illnesses. However although there are many stories like this I am sure that for every success, there were many who didn’t receive healing, who died or never had the much-desired baby. Imagine sitting on a wall outside the temple waiting for Jesus to come, hoping that today he would heal you. The man next to you leaps up with joy, his bent legs straightening as he dances off into the distance, your heart sinks and you realise that yet again its not your time. Maybe it never will be.

I am a realist and know that sometimes things just don’t work out the way we had hoped

What about people like this? What about me? We encourage people to share their praise stories of how God did something great for them – but what about when he doesn’t? Should we be sharing the stories about unanswered prayer, heartbreak, pain and suffering?

I find that so often in our churches, worship songs and sermons give the impression that God is there just for us - that he will answer our prayers – that he will do whatever we want. But this is not how we are called to be. Our praise should come from a place of respect and love and not from wanting something for ourselves.

Through my time of hardship, I have felt God reminding me that I was made for his purpose, to praise him and bring him glory. I have felt challenged that I need to do this despite the suffering and without any ulterior motive. I shouldn’t praise God because I think he will answer my prayers, I should praise him because he is almighty and worthy of my praise.

He is God and I should praise him despite the pain from the place of darkness I find myself in.

Trying to get to this point is hard, many times I find myself thinking: "If I praise God more – maybe he will hear my prayer? Maybe if I spend more time praying - he will answer my prayer?" I cast my mind back to the shared story of other peoples miracles and think that if I copy the way they handled the situation maybe I will be blessed too. But this is not the kind of relationship that we should have with God. He is God and I should praise him despite the pain from the place of darkness I find myself in.

Sometimes our prayers just won’t be answered, sometimes things will not get better and people will die despite the nights of prayer and fasting or other activities that may be encouraged. It shouldn’t stop us praying, hoping and asking for things, but we should never base our faith and identity on responses to our prayers.

My advice to those with friends and family who are suffering is pray with them, weep with them and be kind. Be cautious about sharing miracle stories – they can make us feel inadequate and under unnecessary pressure. 

So, what happens when miracles don’t come? We continue worshipping God without an agenda and through the pain. This doesn’t have to be jumping around waving flags. A broken sobbing voice telling God how great he is will be enough. 

Abbi King is from Bristol, she works as a fundraising consultant and freelance tutor

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