When Your Prayers Don't Get Answered
If you grew up in a religious home, it's likely that you were taught, like me, and like I have tried to teach my kids, that we can pray anytime, anywhere, and for anything. And hopefully you've had the faith building experience of receiving the answers you were looking for. But also if you're like me, you've had those times when you've felt like your prayers don't get answered.
Every Sunday I get the great privilege of sitting in Primary, and I get to hear the kids sing. One of my favorite songs is A Child's Prayer.
Heavenly Father, are you really there?
And do you hear and answer ev'ry child's prayer?
Some say that heaven is far away,
But I feel it close around me as I pray.
I love this song, and hearing the sweet little voices of the children singing it warms my heart and usually brings me to tears. It is one of those moments when I feel the Spirit the strongest in my life, and I realize how truly blessed I am to be in Primary with these sweet little spirits so fresh from heaven.
However, as much as I love this song, sometimes the idea of it is hard for me to grasp.
Do prayers get answered?
I remember being young, and being taught that we could pray for anything, and Heavenly Father was always listening. Sadly, over the years, going from a child, to a teenager, into young adulthood and now as a full-fledged card-carrying adult, it just hasn't been as simple as I wish it was. Maybe it's because as we grow up our problems get more complicated. Maybe we're expecting answers but not really listening, or we're looking for answers in all the wrong places.
Maybe it's because it's a hard thing to understand that what we want for ourselves isn't what the Lord has in store for us. And maybe we don't want to accept that like we should. We've heard all these things before, and they are all true. But the question I have right now is, what if you feel like you aren't even being heard at all? What if the answer you're waiting for doesn't even come? It's not that the answer is a NO, it's just silence?
So what do we do when we feel like our prayers aren't getting answered?
It's pretty difficult to press forward in faith when it feels like no one is listening. But the truth is, Heavenly Father IS still there, and He IS listening. The breakdown in communication is not coming from the Lord, it's all happening on our end.
I have a confession to make.
I have anxiety. My anxiety has led to depression. This is a relatively new discovery for me, but finally realizing it to be the case has opened the doors for me to finally get the help I have needed for a long time.
We hear a lot about anxiety and depression in the world today, much more than we ever used to. I heard someone say not too long ago that there really isn't more of it than there was before, we just live in a world where the stigma associated with mental health is finally subsiding a little bit, so people are more willing to talk about it.
Living with anxiety can be tricky and painful. Not realizing that you even have it can be worse because it's likely you don't even realize the source of your pain.
The garden of anxiety and depression
Several years ago I decided to try my hand at gardening. I'm not a person who even owns a houseplant, because I can't keep anything alive no matter how hard I try. So this was a pretty big undertaking for me. I read a lot, I did all this research on the internet, and I went forward with this really great plan.
Some of what I had read talked about planting things early in the year and then putting a dome cover over them so you get an early start. That's what I had decided to try, because heaven forbid I just do things the simple way. If there is a way to complicate things, trust me, I will find it and that's the path I always take.
I bought a garden box, filled it with the best possible mix of gardening soil I could come up with, and bought my little seedlings. Everything was planted, and it was ready to grow. And I had built a trusty dome with PVC pipe and plastic to cover my garden box.
I would go out and cover the little seedlings with the dome each night, then in the morning, I'd go out and take the dome off. Until one morning when I second guessed myself and decided it was too cold to uncover them, so I left the dome on way longer than I should have.
When I finally ventured out to take the cover off, all my seedlings were dead. Sweating in that enclosed covering, deprived of light, lacking in fresh air, they never stood a chance.
Anxiety is like that blasted dome that I put over my garden boxes. We, like the seedlings, are bursting with potential. All of our personality, our talents, our gifts from God, waiting to bloom. But then that dome comes along, covering us, blocking the light, and it suffocates us.
Anxiety as a tool used against us
Anxiety and depression are not from the adversary, he doesn't have that kind of power. But he does recognize a good tool when he sees it. And he knows how to exploit it and wield it against us if we allow it.
We worry about things that are out of our control. Maybe we spend a lot of time believing that we aren't "enough". Agonizing over how things should be, the decisions we should make or not make, and concentrating on everything that goes wrong to the point that we miss the things that are going right.
God speaks to us, but our minds are so full of these other voices that eventually we can't hear Him anymore. We pray for answers, but because the fog of depression has covered our eyes and ears, we don't hear them. Soon hope fades, and with it our faith can start to disappear. Maybe we even doubt that we ever heard His voice or felt His Spirit at all.
This is where we face the ultimate crossroad. We either look for help and press forward, or we give up. I'm begging you, if you are in the crossroad, please don't give up! There is help ahead, and so many people willing and able to offer it.
The road may be rough ahead, but it is possible to find your way out of the fog. But where do you begin?
Don't Stop Praying
Pour your heart out in prayer! It's easy when you feel like Heavenly Father isn't listening to think it isn't worth the effort. Remember that even if you don't feel like you're hearing Him, He is still hearing YOU, and He is waiting to bless you with all that you need, even if you don't recognize it at the moment.
Speak as though He is sitting right there next to you. Pour out your deepest worries. Remember that the Lord already knows how you feel, but He is waiting for you to open up and share it with Him.
Turn to the Scriptures
One of the biggest lessons I have learned over the past year and a half is how many answers to prayers I get from the scriptures, directly to me. When I start my scripture study with prayer, I always ask that the Lord reveal His message meant for me in what I am reading. Every single day, without fail, I see His messages, as long as I ask for them before I begin.
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Go Back to the Basics
The idea of turning yourself back to the scriptures for help also comes with the idea of getting back to the basics of what you believe and what you should do. There are always jokes or comments about "the Primary answers", but hasn't the Lord asked us to become as little children? Sometimes we get so bogged down in all the "extras" that we lose sight of the ONE SIMPLE THING that will bring us joy and the answers we seek, and that is our relationship with our Savior.
The to-do list of living the gospel can be long, and sometimes we can feel like we are failing when we can't get it all done. But at the end of the day, if we are working to build our relationship with our Savior, everything else that is important will fall into place. Or we'll discover that it wasn't as important as we think it is, and it will disappear altogether.
Stop and Be Still
My Stake President has had a recurring message for us about taking some time to BE STILL. I have realized how important this counsel is because we live in a world full of distraction. Maybe you need to learn how to meditate and clear your mind for a brief moment, or maybe you need to spend time writing in a journal. Whatever method you need to use, taking time to just be still in important.
Whatever your chosen distraction is, put it down, turn it off, hide it away. If you're ever going to feel the Spirit or hear the Lord's voice, you need quiet, calm moments in order for it to happen.
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Never Stop Trying
The road to finding the peace we are looking for or getting the answers that we need can seem long, but it's only because we are looking at it through our own mortal perceptions. Having faith in God's timing is probably the thing I struggle with the most, so it's hard for me to tell anyone else how to be patient! It's a lesson I am learning daily, and likely will be for the rest of my life.
I have seen persistence pay off in my own life as I try to wait on the Lord. It always comes. But the waiting is really hard.
For some, doing all these things can come so easily. Every once in awhile I hear someone in a church meeting talk about how these things are simple, and while that is true in theory, it doesn't make it easy for everyone. If you're one of those people that struggles, you're not alone. Don't get discouraged or feel like you're failing if it isn't easy. Just keep trying, because that is all the Lord has asked of us.
If, like me, you have felt the crushing weight of anxiety or depression, seek help. Being too proud to admit something isn't right is only going to hurt you. As my counselor says, the healthiest people are all in therapy, because they are the ones that recognize and are willing to admit things are not as they should be and are looking to make the necessary changes to correct them.
Of all the things I have mentioned, the hardest part for me was actually going for help. I had no idea how badly I needed it until I actually started. The funny thing is, I was actually receiving important messages from the Lord through all channels telling me that I needed to get help long before I actually did it. Because of the fog I was in, I practically had to be hit over the head before I recognized it.
The Truth is, your Prayers are NEVER going Unanswered
Pray, he is there;
Speak, he is list'ning.
You are his child;
His love now surrounds you.
He hears your prayer;
He loves YOU.
Being a parent, I sometimes watch my children as they struggle with different aspects of their lives, and I groan, knowing that I have the answers if only I could somehow intervene. I have been where they are, and been through many of the same trials already, even if they don't know about them or don't believe me. I would gladly take the trials from them if I could, but I also know that they need to learn and grow from them the same way that I did.
I imagine that Heavenly Father is much the same way, only completely perfect, with the completely perfect answers to all of our struggles. I picture Him sighing deeply, and probably weeping, as He watches us go through the trials He knows we must bear in order to learn the things we need to know. I can imagine Him quietly saying, "I have the answers you're looking for. All you have to do is ask." And I can also almost feel the sadness that He feels when we don't hear Him, or don't pay attention, or leave Him to head down the wrong path in search of the answers elsewhere.
The fog of anxiety and depression is real, and if you feel like your prayers aren't being heard, or if you feel like the Spirit has abandoned you, chances are good you're lost in it. But the good news is, there is a way out, and you can find it. The Lord is, at this very moment, pouring out His tender mercies on you, just waiting for you to see them and recognize that there is still hope, that He is still there, and that you can find your way back into the light.
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