An answered prayer—that’s what I’m trying to write about but flawed Christian that I am, my first thoughts are of the unanswered prayers. Thirty-plus years ago I told my former college roommate and friend that I’d pray for her and I did, but not enough because she died.
I’ve always felt guilty about that. I had three children under six and she lived in another state so even though I prayed it wasn’t long before my days were filled with scabby knees, sniffles and pink eye. I might go a day and a half without giving her a thought. If I had prayed without ceasing would it have made a difference? Would she have beaten the cancer and lived to see her children grow up?
Then there was my sister-in-law Peggy, mother of four. Stage IV ovarian cancer was her diagnosis and what a battle she waged, living five maybe six years. In the end nobody’s prayers were enough unless you consider that maybe the prayers got her that far.
If I had prayed more would she have seen Katie graduate from high school? Seen Joe and Kim graduate from Notre Dame? Would she have been at Joe and Kristen’s wedding, John and Erika’s? Would she have cradled her first grandchild? Her third? Her fifth? The precious milestones she missed have been too numerous to name.
My most recent failure was Chip, my own brother. Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis? We thought that was a disease for smokers or someone exposed to strange chemicals, not for us ordinary people. A miracle, we marveled when he got new lungs a mere two weeks after he had made the list, but the miracle didn’t last. After a year, for no apparent reason his lungs began scarring again.
He never celebrated the big five-o. He won’t see his boys graduate from high school or marry but he did get two extra years of “Dad” memories for them and maybe that was the most he could hope for.
Prayers are funny, or maybe it’s just we humans who offer them who are. In our frivolous heads we keep score. Prayers answered: 0, denied: 5, but I’m thinking now that maybe we don’t pay close enough attention. If we did we might be astounded at just how many unspoken prayers are answered every moment of every day.
If we looked at the illnesses our children and grandchildren recovered from, the planes which landed safely, the car that missed ours by the width of an eyelash, the funnel cloud that took down the fence and a few trees but left our house and family intact—if we looked at all of those and tallied those little miracles against our losses, we would be stunned speechless with gratitude to the God who doesn’t answer prayers.
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