The Grief of Unanswered Prayers

I’ve been having anxiety filled dreams for about 4 months now. Every single night and what feels like no rest. I’m perpetually exhausted.

These dreams aren’t always nightmares. At times, they can take on a more humorous quality. In fact, this week I had a dream that I was in the middle of taking an English final and only had 20 minutes to finish it and someone was talking to me and distracting me. What I found most funny, upon waking up, were the details I remembered about the dream. It needed to be 260 words in length (there has never been an English final with such ridiculous word count limits) and my essay was titled “When unwanted hugs and kisses are a bill too high to pay.”

I giggled to myself as I typed up my dream scenario and posted it on Facebook. I thought some of my friends might also find this dream funny and I love getting a laugh out of people. Most of my friends shared their own stress dream stories and I took comfort in knowing I wasn’t the only one reliving my high school test taking days. (Now shockingly over 20 years ago….a nightmare realization in and of itself).

One person in particular left a comment that, admittedly, rubbed me the wrong way. She told me if I read Psalm 91 out loud before I went to bed that these dreams would stop.

Instantly, I was transplanted into my childhood bedroom. My floral comforter tucked up under my chin as my heartbeat echoed in my own ears. I’d repeat the name of Jesus frantically in dire hopes that the night would be peaceful.

I was living in what felt like a nightmare to little Holly. Honestly, it was a nightmare and 37-year-old Holly confirms it, but during it and even many years following my release from “that life” I was told it wasn’t that bad. As I got older I played the comparison game– at least you didn’t experience that. As if that was the only thing that justified pain or grief or loss.

This morning I woke from another stress filled dream that took me back to that childhood life. One that keeps getting more distant with each passing year and yet one I will never forget. As I tucked my comforter under my chin and did my best to soak in the sun rays creeping through my slightly ajar blinds memories began to flood my mind. Memories of well intentioned adults who tried to distract me from the things I had experienced with fun weekend getaways or even a trip to Disney World.

My heart grieved knowing they knew….at least in some way….the hell I was living through. Enough to want to shower me with kindness and yet not enough to protect me from what was actually happening. Part of me is angry. Furious, in fact. Yet another part of me asks, “What did you expect them to do? What could they have done?”

Nothing.

As a kid, I learned to just lean into my faith. Just pray, which is what I did every single night. Desperate pleas, in fact. Begging God to bring me some peace. Not the kinds of prayer or wishes you’d greedily ask of a genie– to win the lottery or meet your crush from your favorite TV show Home Improvement (I know we all loved JTT)– but the kinds of prayers that cause me to crumble as an adult. A kid who just wanted a happy home.

Which is what brings me back to the well intentioned advice of my Psalm 91 reading friend. I’ve tried.

I’ve tried praying, pleading with God to release me from this nightly torture that keeps my body and mind restless and weary.

I prayed when I was told someone I loved dearly had a terminal illness. I sang songs of spiritual warfare, read psalms (including Psalm 91), fasted, wept on my knees for nights asking for healing. And then prayed as I stood next to his coffin, “If you can raise Lazarus, I know you can raise Josh.” My eyes staring at his chest convinced God would fill it with breath.

I’ve prayed for a husband since I was a little girl. Prayed God would make me into the woman needed to be the wife of a faith filled man of God. Or if nothing else to just remove the damn desire all together.

Nothing.

And so I weep, not because I think God doesn’t answer prayers because I believe that He does, but because I’ve grow up thinking if I just prayed more, believed more, tried HARDER that He would see it and move on my behalf. And that’s just not how He works.

It’s not about working harder and I can tell you because I fully exhausted that route in my life. That is NOT the answer. So, what is the answer? What do you do when you wake up and are face-to-face with your worst fear: the grief of unanswered prayers? I would love to give you a formula or 4-step process. In fact, my heart yearns to do that for you (especially for me) because then we wouldn’t be left to wrestle with an unanswered question.

I don’t know. In the midst of these overwhelming feelings right now all I can do is grieve for that little girl who lived through some scary events, grieve for the 22 year old who watched her love be buried and grieve for this singleness cloaked under the exterior of strong, independent Holly.

I talk about my grief because I refuse to pretend that it isn’t there. Grief isn’t weakness or some “flaw” of an overly emotional person. Grief is recognizing a loss has taken place. Grief is staring something in the face that you’ve tried to bury. Grief makes me human and connects me to the divine. The whole “made in His image”. He grieves, too.

Maybe that’s the simple Truth I will leave with myself (and you) today. One that reminds me my grief is seen. It matters and it matters to the heart of God. He’s not angrily asking me why I’m not over that yet or downplaying my hurt by telling me, “It wasn’t that bad.” He cares and is kind towards me. So, today I will follow suit and allow myself to care about this stuff and to be kind in the process.

May I lovingly encourage you to do the same if you find yourself in a similar place.

With love and gentleness,

Holly

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