Stories in this episode: Anna’s teen years are spent in anger and frustration at God for not saving her mom until an unwelcome opportunity sparks a new perspective; Juan is stopped in his tracks on his way into a fast-food restaurant when a sign from heaven sheds new light on an unanswered prayer that haunted him for years.
To see our show notes for this episode, go to ldsliving.com/thisisthegospel
Welcome to This Is the Gospel, an LDS Living podcast where we feature real stories from real people who are practicing and living their faith every day. I'm your host KaRyn Lay.
I wouldn't say I am a huge modern country music fan – I tend to like my country a little bit more dusty, but when I put today's theme into Google, just to see what I could see, only one thing popped up in the search results.
The 1990 Country Music juggernaut of a song from Garth Brooks called, "Unanswered Prayers." It immediately triggered a series of flashbacks to those awkward dances at Rockland Junior High where the only thing bigger than my hairsprayed bangs was all of my anxiety about being asked by an actual boy to dance to a slow song.
And if you're unfamiliar with this particular slow song, let me give you a quick synopsis. It's a story about a teenager begging God for something that he thought he wanted, only to realize as an adult that getting that thing that he wanted, would have precluded him from the gift of his current family and life. The song has all the country feelings – regret, longing, a high school football game, and a nod to a loving Heavenly Father. And it ends with a super catchy chorus.
So if you want to jaunt down American Memory Lane, hit the YouTube give it a listen. But here's the thing, Garth song and its catchphrase, "Thank God for unanswered prayers," is a little overly simplistic for my taste.
It might make for a really great t-shirt at the merch table, but I think that understanding and making sense of our own unanswered prayers can feel a little bit more confusing and even devastating when you're in the middle of the asking and the not getting
Getting to gratitude and thanking God for saying no is sometimes a really long and perilous journey. So today, we're going to dig into the complexity of the spiritual phenomenon with two stories from people whose righteous desires didn't end in easy yes's.
First, we'll hear from Anna, who's wrestle with prayer began pretty early on in her life. Here's Anna.
Growing up in primary, I was always taught that if you had a good desire, and if it was a righteous desire, then Heavenly Father was going to answer your prayer, and He was going to give you what you wanted. And I was always taught about the miracles that happened, you would read about it in the scriptures, and I would, you know, hear people bear testimony about the miracles in their own life.
So when I was nine years old – I had just turned nine – we found out that my mom's cancer had come back. She was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was five, and then had been in remission. and it had come back. And this time, they told us that it was terminal, and that she was probably going to not survive it because it had spread so rapidly throughout her body.
But as a nine year old girl I had, you know, all the faith in the world. And I knew that – I knew that it was gonna be okay. I was like, "No worries. I'll just, I'll just pray" – because I felt that praying for my mom to live and to not die was a very righteous desire.
And so I prayed so hard that she wouldn't die because I didn't want her to, and I really believe that if I prayed that she wouldn't die, that that she wouldn't. That she would survive, that this would be, you know, one of those miracle stories.
But on October 13 2005, I remember waking up and I looked at the clock and it – I shared a room with my little sister – and it was nine in the morning. And I thought, "This is the greatest day of my life, my parents have forgotten to wake me up for school. I don't have to go to school."
And so my little sister woke up and she started making noises and trying to talk to me and I was like, "No, no, go back to bed. Mom and Dad won't take us to school if we don't wake up." But my dad heard us, and he asked us to come out and we went out into our living room and he was there with his mom and his sister, and they told us that she passed away earlier that morning. And that the cancer had taken her life and . . . I was nine and my little sister had just barely turned seven.
And I mean I was just bawling. And I was like, "What?" I was like "No!" like, "My mom can't be gone." And I can remember telling my dad, you know, I said I was like, "You know Dad, I'm not gonna pray anymore." Because I said, "God didn't answer my prayer. So obviously God doesn't love me. And God doesn't answer prayers because I prayed so hard and so many people were praying that she wouldn't die." And yet, here I was without a mom here on earth and I was just so upset and I was so angry. And I held on to that anger.
Anger was like this blanket for me where I would just like wrap it around myself, and anytime I started to not feel angry, I was like, "Whoa, this feels weird, bring it back." And my prayers definitely changed after that, where, when I would pray, it would be very routine, it would be, you know, the "Please bless that I'll be able to sleep tonight. And I'll be able to wake up and go to school tomorrow and do good things."
It wasn't very, it wasn't very heartfelt. I didn't want . . . I didn't want to pray. And I didn't really pray on my own. I would pray in like family settings and stuff. But I just really didn't believe that God answered prayers, because he hadn't answered mine. And that was a pretty big prayer that I wanted to have answered.
My dad got remarried to my stepmom, and I did not like her, um, because I was just so angry. I was like, "No, you don't get to come in here and like pretend to be my mom, I've been raised one way for nine years." "You don't just get to kind of like come in here and try and you know, tell me what to do." And I would always tell her that anytime she would say something to me, I would be like, "You're not my mom." That was like my card that I would pull out all the time.
And I was just so angry. And I really took it out on her, because I felt that if I loved her – if I loved my stepmom – then I would be forgetting my mom. But I was lucky enough to have a dad who, you know, when I told him that I was done praying, he didn't just go, "Okay, sounds good." Like, "You're right. He didn't answer my prayer, either. Let's just like stop going to church and stop doing things."
But he taught me of the plan of salvation and of eternal families. And it was, it was those truths, that kept me going. I had to hold on to that hope that I was going to see my mom again, and that families are eternal, and that the plan of salvation is this wonderful plan that our Heavenly Father has given us. And that's what really kept me going.
Even though I didn't feel like I could ask Heavenly Father for important things at that time. So I would only ask them for like little things like, "Can you help us find this lost toy?" Or, "Can you, you know, help me on this test?" It would just be like, very little things, and I wouldn't put a lot of faith in Him to, like, fulfill it.
Like, I'd be like, I mean, I don't really know if he's, you know, I don't know if he's actually going to help us find this toy, I don't . . . you know, like, I didn't really have a lot of faith during that time that he would actually answer those prayers. But I kind of started to ask him for little things here and there to kind of, I guess, see what would happen.
All of this kind of started to change when I was in my first year of college, and I was praying to tell God, that I was not going to be serving a mission, t…