Fair warning: This is about to get deep. Like, deep. Okay, maybe not deep enough for italics. Read it, and if you think it's deep enough for italics, let me know.
I have been struggling with something lately. Between my mom going in and out of the hospital so often for awhile, and my friend passing away earlier this year, and just the general stresses of life, I have gone through a very... unprayer-ish time in my life. I felt like praying to God for anything was kind of useless, because it seemed like He was going to do whatever He had already planned on anyway. I felt like I was blaspheming by thinking that, and I wanted to stop. But I couldn't get it out of my head. I wanted to pray, and to keep up the faith that I had known all my life. I have been a Christian for 16 years - I should be able to get over this bump in the road. But I just couldn't do it. It got to the point where I would start to pray, but I felt so defeated that I just got a few words out and then stopped. Daniel would pray for both of us, me telling him what to pray for in the hopes that God would hear Daniel even if He didn't hear me.
Then I began to wonder if I had done something to make God not listen to my prayers. Was I not faithful enough? Had I not prayed enough? Maybe He was mad because I didn't read my Bible enough. I tried to fix all the things that I thought could be the problem, and I tried to pray again. It still didn't work. I felt so far from God, and far from everything I knew. My whole life is based on my faith. If I had a question before, I just asked my parents or my pastor and it was answered. But now, I couldn't even think of the right way to ask the question, let alone find an answer. This had never happened to me before. I wasn't the one who questioned her faith. I was the one with answers, with the ability to show people the silver lining, the one whose beliefs weren't shaken even when her mom got cancer or her dad lost his job. To have that taken away from me was so completely terrifying and confusing that I didn't even know where to begin to return to my previous way of life.
I finally sought counsel from a very wise friend of mine. We shall call her Q. Her name doesn't begin with Q but I think it's mysterious and James Bonds-y and I like it. I told Q all of these things, and we talked at length about what I had been praying for. I was waiting for her sympathy, a pat on the shoulder, maybe a violin or two playing in the background while a sad kitten walked by. Instead, she thought for a moment, and then asked if maybe I was being selfish with my prayers.
I was completely stunned. And offended. I was ready to walk away and never speak to her again. But we were in Starbucks, and I hadn't finished my drink yet, so I stayed. I <3 Starbucks. I argued with her, asking how praying for my mom to be well, for my dad to find a job, for my friend to recover could be selfish. Those were prayers for other people. And I wasn't asking Jesus to give me a pony, or to make it so my husband got a 1000% raise just because it would be nice to have extra money. These were legitimate, life-and-death prayer requests. I didn't expect God to say yes to every single thing I asked for, but I thought maybe He could give me a couple of these.
Q then gave me some invaluable advice: God doesn't see things the way we do. You can go ahead and let out a "duh" if you would like to. We rate things: kicking a dog is bad, stealing is worse, murder is even worse, lying is not so good, punching your friends is mean, and streaking is discouraged. But God doesn't see sin as bad, kind of bad, or worse: It's all the worst. Sin is sin. Whether that means you tell a lie to your boss or shiv a guy in prison, sin is always sin. I have always known this. I think all of us do, even though we forget it. But here comes the part that I totally did not think of: The same goes for prayers and prayer requests.
When we pray to God, He hears us. He hears every prayer. We pray to do well on tests, or for someone to get well, or to get a promotion. And none of that is bad. But, once again, we rate things: In our minds, praying for a friend to be cured from cancer is probably one of the most important things we can pray for. It was to me. I thought that surely that was something God had to say "yes" to. But as much as it hurts us to lose someone, and as much as God hurts when we hurt, He doesn't rate things like we do. All of our prayers matter to Him. But not all of them get a "yes," no matter how much it would mean to me or to a friend or family member. I wanted my friend to get better because it was sad and painful to see him go - but him staying was not what God had planned. My prayer requests were for earthly things, even though it didn't seem like it at the time. That's the thing about all of the requests we bring to God: If they don't work for His good and in His timing, they don't work. This is something that we as humans can't always wrap our minds around - some things will just always hurt us worse than others, because we can't see the big picture. Losing a friend will always hurt worse than stubbing my toe. And not having a prayer answered the way I want will always be hard to deal with. But if I take things to God in prayer and leave those things with Him, instead of taking them back to fix myself, I don't have to deal with the hurt and sadness and confusion by myself - God is fighting that battle for me.
I'm not saying we shouldn't pray for sick friends or people in need. Praying is how we communicate with God. We should continue to speak to Him, thank Him, and come to Him with our requests - remembering that He loves us too much to say yes to whatever we ask for. Does that make it easier? No. Seeing a loved one hurting will never, ever be easy. That is one of the sad parts of this world. But God is so far above and beyond this world that once we get to heaven and see how the plan all comes together, we will rejoice over the times He told us no.