Happy Second Week of Advent, Dear Friends. This season of waiting seems like an appropriate time to share my new Faith Today column – which asks How should we pray when God seems silent? Here it is …

I am the mother of two very persistent children. From extended bedtimes to Xboxes, they’ve always had a particular genius for requesting what they want with such frequency and intensity that, on occasion, their father and I have acquiesced just to make them stop.

While I have a grudging respect for their tenacity, I haven’t seen their petitionary persistence as a positive. So it has struck me odd that persistence is such a key theme in Jesus’ teaching on prayer.

In Luke 11, Jesus tells the story of a man who knocks on a door in the middle of the night until his grumpy neighbour provides food. In Luke 18, Jesus describes a widow who won’t stop calling upon a capricious judge until he grants her justice.

Both stories employ a classic rabbinical argument known as “from the lesser to the greater.” If a lazy, inhospitable neighbour and a jaded, corrupt judge will eventually fulfill the requests of a persistent petitioner, Jesus suggests, how much more will your Father in heaven, who is good?

The argument is not hard to follow. But is Jesus telling us we should nag God until we get what we want, the way my eight-year-old once wore down my defenses until he was the proud owner of glow-in-the-dark wheelie sneakers?

I don’t think so. After all, elsewhere Jesus warns against “babbling” in intercession or thinking our prayers are more likely heard if we use “many words” (Matthew 6:7).

So why does Jesus emphasize persistence?

Like so many others, I find my life forces my questions about Jesus’ teaching on prayer out of the abstract and into the urgent. For months my mom has been in the hospital. An out-of-the-blue heart attack set off a domino effect of complications – heart failure, kidney failure, internal bleeding, infection.

We are grateful she is still with us. And yet we are discouraged. Every time she’s survived another complication, we’ve praised God and made plans for her release – only to be told a day later she’s been hit with another setback.

As the weeks dragged on, I found myself growing increasingly tongue-tied when I tried to pray at her bedside. Requesting healing for the thousandth time, I felt foolish in the repetition. Why raise our hopes only to have them inevitably dashed again?

Things have grown a little quiet between God and me. I haven’t wanted to badger Him any longer about my mom, but her condition is so on my mind that it’s hard to talk about much else.

My conversation with God had dwindled until, a few days ago, my mom called and regretfully filled me in on yet another setback. I hung up the phone and found myself sinking to my knees. I don’t know how much time passed, but eventually, I was struck by two important things. The first was that my sobbing – wordless and wrenching – was prayer. And the second was that there was a palpable presence in the room with me. My prayer was being heard.

God offered no clear answers. I heard no promises. But after a few minutes, I was able to stand up again, tangibly reminded my Father in heaven is still involved, and still good.

It made me wonder if maybe Jesus taught us to persist in praying out of empathy for our condition. He was utterly convinced of the goodness and the efficacy of His Father. Yet He understood how silent the heavens can seem from an earthbound perspective. So He asked us to trust God now, based on His character, for the things that will only make sense later.

In the meantime, we have two choices – express what is really in our hearts or go mute. Given that nothing kills a relationship faster than the silent treatment, maybe what Jesus is saying with His persistence parables is this: Don’t go mute.

Jesus’ own prayer book was comprised of the psalms, almost half of which are raw, sometimes petulant, cries of lament. It turns out that “How long, O Lord?” is a much better prayer than “I’ll stop bothering you now.”

So, like the psalmists, like a persistent neighbour, like a tenacious widow or maybe even like a child with a burning request, I’m back to asking.*

(*update: After a 131-day stay, my mom is finally out of the hospital and recovering beyond the doctors’ expectations at home. I am grateful.)

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28 comments

  1. I really appreciate this column. Life can be very difficult. Words can be hard to find, sometimes all I can come up with is a plea fir Gods mercy. Nothing more.
    Simple words that speak volumes because they are spoken to a merciful God who can be trusted. The space between my words can allow me to listen & be assured I’m not alone.

  2. How wonderful about your Mom, Carolyn. And thank you for this post. I have just come through a trial with my daughter too and although I didn’t doubt God in any of it, I have another friend who’s daughter has been prayed over by many, many people and still struggles. Over her, I wondered. I still say we don’t know how to pray so that the nagging, from my perspective, just continues. More importantly, I know that my God walks with me and listens and knows that I trust Him in all things. Maybe that is the importance of prayer. Blessings to you and your family.

  3. “Don’t go mute.” I love that. I’m reading a book called “A Praying Life” by Paul E. Miller and he writes about how we as believers can even get cynical about prayer. Thank you for your writing and music, Carolyn.

  4. So great to hear that your mom is back home! Thank you for your words of faith and encouragement. They are very apt for the season of Advent. Thank you for the reminder to trust in the goodness of God and for the insight that persistence is maybe to not just go mute as opposed to nonstop petitioning. I know your family will have a very thankful and merry Christmas.

  5. Cling to the promises of God!

    Micah 7:7
    But as for me, I will watch expectantly for the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation My God will hear me.

    Healing, courage and hope to you and your family!

  6. How timely this is. Today would have been my mom’s 91st birthday, so she is on my mind a lot. I have gone through a rough patch and also became mute. Things got worse, then I read Psalm 91. Now when things are rough, I take cover and rest under the eagle’s wing. It is helping, but I am longing for that close relationship I once had. Still trying to figure out what is keeping me away from Him, but I will be persistent, and know that one day, my relationship with Him will be even better than it has ever been! Blessings to you, your mom, and the rest of your family!

  7. I love that! Thankyou Carolyn. I am of the mind that when God is our GOD all thoughts are prayers to Him, all we do is praise to Him, all our hope is prayers to Him, everything we consider is talking to Him…when we walk about; seeing, touching, in wonder, in awe, loving, despising, hurting, sobbing, wrenching …breathing, whether on our knees or standing tall…these too are all prayers to Him.

  8. Thank you for your insightful and biblically sound writing. Being the husband of a 2 time cancer survivor and facing some health issues myself I’m constantly asking for specific things repeatedly from God.

  9. That just hits the nail on the head.
    How to jump start a mute heart is something I puzzle over.
    Oh Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.

  10. “We must continually ask ourselves as we invest time, money, resources and energy into helping those in poverty: Are we doing so strategically?” That question is at the heart of a new book called “Strategic Compassion: Reuniting the good news and good works in the fight against poverty” by Barry Slauenwhite, president of Compassion Canada. In this interview with Karen Stiller, Slauenwhite defines poverty in a way you might not expect and challenges the Canadian Church to truly respond in a holistic manner. He also takes us behind the scenes of child sponsorship and explains how this form of help really works.

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