Axiom: God always answers our prayers.
Corollary: His answer usually falls into one of three categories: “Yes,” “No,” or “Wait.”
The corollary vastly oversimplifies matters, I find; for example, it doesn’t take into account the way He answers questions or the fact that “Yes” doesn’t always look like we think it should, such as a request for healing being answered by His taking the person Home, which is the ultimate deliverance from bodily woes. But it’s still a useful corollary as far as it goes because it reminds us to accept the answers we may not want to hear.
That’s my chief quibble with the Garth Brooks song “Unanswered Prayers.” The speaker’s prayer was answered, but he hadn’t wanted to hear the “No” he received. However, the larger point of the song–that we should be thankful for the times God doesn’t give us what we want because He knows they’re not what we need–is a very good one.
I sat in a mentor’s office one grey day early in the semester, looking for advice. He was teaching a class I really wanted to take, but to do so in addition to the classes I was already registered for would mean taking an overload, and I didn’t know whether to attempt that or drop one of the other classes or just what.
He knew, however, that the previous semester had been extremely hard on me physically and emotionally. Christmas had helped, but I still had a lot of healing to do. So he explained what the workload in his class would be like and told me gently that I wasn’t well enough yet to keep up with it all. The other classes would be better for me.
I nodded, disappointed and relieved at the same time. “Thank you for telling me no,” I said.
Years later, I interviewed via Skype for an editorial position at an academic press on the East Coast. It sounded like a cool job, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to move.
“I don’t know what I want, Lord,” I confessed in my prayers. “What do You want?”
“I want you to trust Me,” He replied.
“Okay,” I said. “If You don’t want me to take this job, don’t let them call me for a second interview.”
I received a rejection letter by the end of the week and thanked Him for the answer.
The following summer, I interviewed for a position at a state college in the hope of being able to teach the kinds of courses I’m teaching now for BCF, online. What they offered me instead, basically for peanuts, were three on-campus sections of the single hardest course in any English department. I had one day to decide.
I didn’t want the job. I felt exhausted just thinking about it. But I hadn’t had any work coming in all summer and had no truly promising prospects on my radar, and I didn’t know whether my hesitation was from God or a result of my own fears of burning out.
So I prayed and asked friends and mentors to pray. Most friends outside the English department couldn’t see past “YAY! JOB!” But several mentors asked the same questions and gave the same cautions, and the more I prayed, the more God confirmed that the no really was from Him. And He repeated what He’d told me before: “I want you to trust Me.”
It may have been the hardest thing I’d ever done, but I turned down the job. And two months later, I received a contract from a translation agency that remains one of my biggest clients.
A few months after that, I came to the conclusion that it was time to leave Waco, and it looked like the right doors were open for me to move back to Llano. At the same time, however, I got word of a teaching position at a Christian college in Fort Worth that sounded like a really good fit. I applied, and they asked me for a phone interview.
“Okay, God,” I prayed before the interview. “I really don’t know what I want. Show me what You want.”
And the interview began with the dean admitting that they’d already hired someone else but wanted to interview me anyway in case, as they hoped, another position came open within the next couple of years.
So I moved back to Llano and haven’t regretted it.
Now, I won’t try to kid you. It’s not always that easy. Walking by faith gets downright scary when not only can I not see light at the end of the tunnel, I’m not even sure whether I’m facing the right way or whether I’m about to walk smack into the tunnel wall. And there have been many times in recent years when I’ve gotten my hopes up about an opportunity, especially with regard to my writing, and been bitterly disappointed when it fell through.
But in quite a few of those cases, I now realize that God, like my dear mentor, was telling me I wasn’t well enough yet.
It’s hard to be patient, to wait for His timing, especially because I’ve spent so much of my life in school that I’m used to seasons having pre-defined end points. This post-doc in hardship is taking a lot longer than I’d hoped! But if there’s one thing I know from long experience, it’s that God tells us no because He loves us and wants the best for us, even if we never understand the answer this side of eternity.