If certain prayers are continually met with silence, should you move on, or double down on your faith?
Here at All Things New we tell a lot of stories, and that’s a good thing. We quote a lot of Scripture, which is a good thing, too. We reference a lot of cultural material, which may or may not be a good thing. And in approximately 800 words, we wrap things up in nice tidy posts. But this isn’t one of those tidy posts.
When I began writing this in December, I intended to reflect on the tradition of setting New Year’s resolutions. I wanted to start with the premise that resolutions are an indication of hope and examine the idea that hope is always rooted in faith. I still believe both of those are true, but as I wrestled with these thoughts, something darker surfaced, something raw. I found myself sinking into a familiar discouragement, one that has become routine each winter.
Every year my health ebbs and flows with the seasons. The winter months are the hardest for me. So as I mused on hope, I found myself wondering if better health is even possible, or if I should just give up and settle for the frustrating state of what is. Hope seems very far away at this point and, in some respects, so does God.
The book of Psalms is full of joy and gratitude, worship and awe. It’s also full of rage and sorrow, doubt and despair. This tells me that it’s okay when we have more questions than answers, when we’re angry at God and full of doubt. Which is a good thing, because right now I have a lot of questions and not much faith.
There, I said it.
It’s not that I’m raging at God. I’m not. It’s not that my life is in a spiral of tragedy and despair. It’s not. It’s not even that I’m having a crisis of faith, because that would be a stretch. I’m not talking about the believe-and-get-into-heaven kind of faith. I fully believe in the triune God. I believe that Jesus is the Savior of the world and that his death paid the penalty for my sins. I believe that his resurrection guarantees a new and better existence in heaven. And oh, how I long for heaven—for so many reasons and on so many levels!
No, I’m talking about a mustard seed kind of faith. Whatever-you-ask-believing-you-shall-receive kind of faith. I-believe-help-my-unbelief kind of faith. Basically, when it comes to being hopeful that God will answer my prayers and change my current health situation, I don’t have much faith.
How did I get to this place? From unanswered prayers. But that requires a story.
I have never been a hardy person physically. I’ve had allergies and allergy-induced asthma my whole life, which always limited the kinds of activities I could do. But I was naturally more of a bookworm than a tree climber, so it wasn’t really a problem. And my parents didn’t really like animals, so we weren’t going to own pets anyway. I did suffer from extremely dry, sensitive skin that was prone to rashes, which got me teased and made me pretty self-conscious and sometimes miserable. But allergy injections and a move away from Cheyenne, Wyoming, seemed to mostly “cure” those problems. When I moved back to the plains, to Fort Collins, my allergy/skin issues resurfaced, and I had to start allergy injections again. But it still felt like a doable problem.
Then about 16 years ago, I began wondering what was wrong with me. Our second daughter was now one and a half, and I hadn’t bounced back yet like I’d done with our first. It was nothing concrete; I was tired all the time and just didn’t feel right. Every doctor I brought it up to attributed it to having small children and not getting enough sleep and/or exercise. “Every mother of small children is tired,” I was told. But somehow I knew this was not the answer. I wasn’t just tired; I wasn’t just really tired. I was EXHAUSTED, almost on the cellular level. And I just didn’t feel like myself. Fast forward another year and I was pregnant again and dealing with weird issues. I dismissed them as pregnancy-related. When they didn’t go away after the birth of our son, I decided it must be because I was nursing and my hormones were still high. But they didn’t go away after I weaned him. And over the next few years I developed more health issues.
By the time our son was 3, I had all the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis (I couldn’t even brush my girls’ hair), and was beginning to exhibit the symptoms of multiple sclerosis. It scared me, and I cried out to God. Thankfully, between my mother and me, we figured out that I had systemic candidiasis, which is an overgrowth of yeast in the bloodstream that ends up attacking various body systems. Though no traditional doctor believed me, my godmother (a certified nurse midwife) agreed to get me a prescription for an anti-yeast medication, and I began a cleanse and anti-candida diet.
If you’ve done a cleanse before, you know they can be less than fun, and diets of any kind require copious amounts of self-control. But the anti-candida diet goes beyond anything else I’ve heard of. Zero added sugar in any form, even natural ones like honey. Nothing too high in sugar naturally, like dairy or fruit. No carbs except one serving per day of a grain in its whole form. No processed foods, including meats and condiments. Nothing containing yeast. No natural mold/fungus—mushrooms, etc. No dried foods. No coffee or tea. Basically, I was eating unprocessed meat and vegetables and drinking water, and that’s it.
To say this was difficult is an understatement. I went through literal withdrawal symptoms from sugar for about a week or so. (I now have so much more compassion for addicts.) On some days, my withdrawal symptoms were so bad I even locked myself in my car in order to keep from punching my children. I also experienced candida die-off, causing a temporary increase in inflammation. I wondered if it was worth it. But an amazing thing happened. Somehow—I believe it was supernaturally—I never cheated on this diet, not once. Even when I was cooking food for the rest of my family, including birthday cakes and Christmas goodies. I didn’t even lick my fingers if I got a little honey or peanut butter on them. Not once. Which was a good thing, because candida, like other forms of yeast, as any baker knows, thrives on sugar. Even a tiny bit of sugar can set a person with candida overgrowth back months.
I lived like that for nine months. (Twelve to 18 months would have been better, but I got pregnant again and needed a more well-rounded diet.) During that time, my major health symptoms reversed themselves. First, the MS-like symptoms went away, then the arthritis, then I slowly gained more energy.
Now, you would think that that whole experience would bolster my faith, right? I mean, God brought to light the answer to my medical problems and gave me the strength to persevere on that stringent diet (something I have since tried to repeat and have been unable to accomplish, which confirms to me that the Holy Spirit was giving me supernatural self-control). However, as I sit here writing this, I have almost no faith that God will answer my prayers for better health. You see, though my health improved greatly, it didn’t improve to the point that I felt truly well, truly myself again.
Some of my health issues persisted, and I developed new ones. To condense the story that is the saga of my health, I will just say that over the next few years I tested allergic or sensitive to 50 different foods, dealt with severe insomnia, spent two years blacking out unexpectedly, and developed relentless neurological itching (which sounds strange enough as to be almost humorous, but believe me, it’s not). Much of that I still live with to this day. Years of praying and begging God for answers, for healing, for any kind of relief has netted me nothing. It’s as if God has turned his back on me. Almost like he’s said, “Sorry, can’t help. You got your allotment of answered prayers already.”
Cognitively I know this isn’t true. God isn’t capricious. At least not the God I believe in. But it sure feels that way sometimes. Which has left me wondering if it’s worth praying those prayers anymore. If the only thing I’m going to hear is silence, if the only answer I’m going to get is “No,” then why bother?
I’ve asked myself if my expectations are too high, but the New Testament is full of verses that tell us that our prayers will be answered if we pray with faith (Matthew 7:7-11, 18:19, 21:21-23; Mark 9:23-24, 11:23-24; John 14:13-14, 15:7, 15:16, 16:23-24; James 4:2-3, 5:13-16; 1 John 3:22, 5:14-15). And both the Old and New Testaments are replete with stories of God doing miraculous things for his people. All of this leads me to believe that I should continue to believe and pray.
I am not talking about some television evangelist name-it-and-claim-it kind of prayers. The kind of prayers I am praying are just earnest requests by a daughter to her Father for relief from the issues that weigh me down and make me weary. Jesus told us that “If [we] who are evil know how to give good gifts to [our] children, how much more will [our] heavenly father give good gifts to [us] if we ask him” (Matthew 7:11). The trouble is, I have this conflict raging inside of me. On the one hand is my belief that God is good, that everything he allows in my life is for my good, and that eventually (even if it isn’t until my death or his return) I will be able to look back and see how God was perfecting his holiness in me. On the other hand is a child who doesn’t feel very loved by her Father right now, who wonders what kind of God lets his children suffer year in and year out.
Despite these feelings, I love God. I do. And if I’m going to have any kind of relationship with God, then I have to talk to him about my health. It’s a part of my daily life, my daily struggle. But I have been praying these prayers for over a decade. To no avail. So I wonder…is it worth it?
The Only Thing You Can Do
Maybe you feel like I do. Maybe God feels unreachable, like there is a Grand Canyon-sized chasm between. Maybe you’ve got an issue that seems hopeless right now. Maybe your whole life does.
I’d like to say I have answers, but I don’t. (I told you this wouldn’t be a tidy-package kind of post.) I have no idea what this new year will bring, if my health will improve or worsen or if I’ll just continue to languish in this state of not-so-good. The only thing I can do is cling to my faith in God, even as my faith for this issue wavers, and hope for something better.
Which brings us full circle to my original intent: hope always springs from faith. Even David in his darkest lamenting exhorts his soul to remember, to trust. It’s what I’m reminding myself to do this new year. I guess that’s all any of us can do.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God. (Psalm 43:5)