I had a Cabbage Patch doll when I was young, and it was by far my favorite toy. From the time I woke up to the time I went to sleep, I kept a routine of caring for this doll. During Sunday school one week, we learned about Hannah in the Bible, and I remember our teacher explaining that God heard Hannah’s prayer for a child, and God answered her prayer. I’m sure she further expounded, but what I walked away believing was, If God hears me, He will say ‘yes.’
So, that night I put my Cabbage Patch to bed and prayed that God would make her real the next morning. I went to bed with tremendous anticipation as to what the doll was going to be like as a real baby. When I woke and discovered the same old stuffed doll, I was incredibly disappointed, and wondered if God didn’t hear me.
I decided to pray again that evening. Louder.
While my understanding of the ways in which God answers the prayers of His children has grown (thankfully), the difficulty in accepting God’s ‘no’ has, in many ways, remained the same. I felt a new depth of pain as a young woman when God answered ‘no’ to my pleading to keep my father alive after he was diagnosed with cancer. I felt a wave of confusion after praying persistently that the lump found on my thirty-year-old sister would not be cancer, and God said, ‘No.’ And I felt tremendous grief when God said ‘no’ to the prayer that the strange side-affects my mom was experiencing would be nothing of significance.
When God Says ‘No,’ He Understands Our Grief
Grief and confusion are natural reactions to God saying ‘no’ to our wants. These emotions are not wrong, but as believers, we should grieve knowing that we are not relenting our desires to an emotionless God who cannot identify with our pain. The incarnation is profound precisely because it reminds us that when God came into this world, he entered the human experience and knew sadness, death, and suffering.
God understands our grief.
One of the most beautiful passages in the Bible is John 11. Mary’s brother, Lazarus, was deathly ill and eventually died. Before Jesus raised him to life again, He visited the family and saw Mary weep over the loss of her brother. Verse 33 says that Jesus was “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” And then he wept. He didn’t just shed a few tears; he didn’t tell them to put smiles on their faces because Lazarus was about to be raised. No. Jesus wept. He was grieved by a world tainted with sin. When God says ‘no,’ trust that His gentle hand is holding you fast through the waves of the unknown, and he is bottling up every tear with unconditional love…