One of the goals for writing the type of content that I do is so that there is some engagement and discussion. Having shared the devotional regarding Zacharias, the visitation of the angel Gabriel and the declaration of …because your prayer has been heard on some Facebook pages (and groups) – the following question was posted.
So, what do you do if for years and years when you pray all you hear is silence, a great big black hole of nothingness? I choose to believe in prayer, but it certainly hasn’t been a comfort to me most of the time. I WANT this to be different. And it’s not because I’m not trying to live righteously, or not making my prayers more thoughtful. I can always improve but I just rarely have positive experiences with prayer.
My initial response was the following:
What impressed me about this passage and the reason I chose it as a devotional is that very reason. Zacharias represents those of us who have experienced unanswered prayers. How do we continue in faith and living our lives in faithful obedience?
From here, the person replied:
We just put one foot in front of the other, choose to continue to believe and live righteously, I guess.
All I was able to say was this:
Sometimes that is all we may be able to do.
The initial question really drove home something that is deeply personal. And being quite the private person that I am – there is some hesitation in showing some vulnerability on my part regarding this question. Because it really generated some self-examination of my own situations I have dealt with in the past. Certain circumstances that I have kept hidden from most people.
Like this individual – I’ve had my own personal struggles with prayer. And how do I personally identify with the question asked – So, what do you do if for years when you pray all you hear is silence? I have experienced those times where I’ve offered up what I thought were heartfelt and sincere prayers.
What was even frustrating is when people asked me about my particular situations – their only response is: Well, keep praying the Lord will provide. Or something along the lines of Maybe it is God’s will you are going through this, and you just need to see it through.
Couple this with my own crippling self-doubt: Is God even listening to me? Have I sinned so bad that He’s distanced himself from me? Am I really unworthy to receive an answer?
No wonder there were countless individuals I’ve encountered over the years that have abandoned their own faith in Christ. The common reason – I thought God was real and prayed and nothing seemed to happen.
And I hate to say this – there is no amount of scripture one is capable of quoting that provides any real true comfort to someone who is struggling with the spiritual discipline of prayer. How come? Because we are taught that if we earnestly seek our Heavenly Father’s will, there will always be some answer. There is no real teaching on what happens if one seeks out guidance, comfort, or casting their cares onto God (Psalm 55:22) and the individual experiences nothing but silence and nothingness.
The only response I am able to provide is this: Sometimes we have to accept the reality of things as they are and strive to continue to live faithfully and obediently to the teachings and Gospel principles of Jesus Christ. And this is what the comfort I have recently discovered in writing the devotional regarding Zacharias and the visitation of the angel Gabriel.
Refrain from Romanticizing the Scriptures
One of the things I had to learn (and yes – the hard way) is how much I’ve romanticized the scriptures and those individuals the scriptures speak about. What do I mean by this? The Cambridge Dictionary has this definition: to talk about something in a way that makes it sound better than it really is, or to believe that something is better than it really is
While there are some good intentions in citing scriptures as a means to offer some comfort to a person – the reality is that we tend to do so in a way that attempts to make a situation sound better than it really is. One does not want to convince themselves that the situation really is what it is – uncomfortable, challenging, and a real faith-crisis.
Furthermore, when it comes to the individuals we read about in the scriptures – we do so in a way that we attempt to convince ourselves that they are far better than we could ever be and that their situation appeared to be not that terrible or difficult.
What struck me upon reading up on information concerning Zacharias – he was an elderly man. Because of his advanced age – the annunciation of the Angel Gabriel regarding the birth of John the Baptist was based on prayers Zacharias and Elisabeth may have offered while they were capable of still bearing children. Most likely, since they were past childbearing age – they had stopped praying for offspring and continued to live as faithfully as they were capable of living. And I am pretty sure that Zacharias and Elisabeth had their own moments of doubt. Questioned whether or not God heard their prayers. Because they were ordinary people dealing with ordinary circumstances. This is evident when Zacharias questioned the Angel and asked for a sign. To which the Angel declared that Zacharias would be deaf and unable to speak until the birth of his son.
Approaching the scriptures with realistic expectations and not see them in a manner which causes them to sound far better, or believe them to be something better, than what they really are – helps us apply the spiritual truths into our own lives.
Sowing Seeds of Doubt is Easier than Sowing Seeds of Faith
Regarding my own personal experiences, frustrations, and even those times where I’ve gone into deep depression – I had to realize that my ability to doubt was far greater than my ability to accept the reality of my situation for what it was and continue to live by faith. It really does take great courage and strength to maintain a consistent attitude of humility. Far too easy to give into those moments of doubt and allow them to fester like weeds invading a well cultivated garden.
Sowing seeds of faith is not just about confidence and trust. Sowing seeds of faith is an exercise of harmonizing mind, body, and spirit and overcoming those invasive thoughts of doubt. As a writer – we call this the inner critic. In certain recovery programs, it is referred to as the critical parent. And the way a good friend of mine refers to this type of self-talk – the monkey mindset. Such thoughts cast judgment, criticizing, and even causing us to doubt our own spiritual integrity and character; as well as questioning and doubting God’s character and integrity.
From this perspective, I am coming to understand the reason our Savior consistently said – O ye of little faith. Not that He was being judgmental and critical. More along the lines of recognizing our weakness in lacking exercise in placing faith and trust in him on a consistent basis.
This is what we have a glimpse of regarding Zacharias. He maintained his religious piety. Devoted himself to fulfilling his duties accordingly. And when it came time for him to have the honor of worshipping in the Temple – he appeared to do so faithfully.
Beware of those who Boast
Probably the most significant challenge to any person struggling with prayer (and receiving an answer to their prayers) is when fellow Christians engage in an attitude of boasting. Now, I don’t mean those who share how our Heavenly Father has blessed them and answered their own personal prayers. It is actually healthy to hear people share their own personal testimonies. And what is even more is hearing those rare testimonies of individuals who have engaged in long seasons of prayer and thought they’d never receive an answer – the doors of Heaven open and they are blessed more than they possibly could imagine.
No, what I am referring to is those who boast in a manner and attitude that is not sincere in testifying of the goodness of God. It is all they talk about in a way that comes off as being prideful. And in some way – it tends to be weaponized as a means to harm those still struggling with their own prayer life and seeking answers to long awaited cries made unto God.
And if you still are a bit confused on what I am referring to – listen to what Christ says:
And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, in order that they may be seen by people. Truly I say to you, they have received their reward in full! But whenever you pray, enter into your inner room and shut your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “But when you pray, do not babble repetitiously like the pagans, for they think that because of their many words they will be heard. Therefore do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.Matthew 6:5–8 – The Lexham English Bible
Those who boast are not testifying or edifying at all. What they are actually engaging in is receiving their own rewards to increase their own pretense. And the spiritual harm that happens is those who are struggling with crisis of faith – struggling to receive answers see these boastful individuals and wonder how God is able to hear and bless those who are boasting while withholding answers and blessings from those who are struggling.
For me, personally, prayer is something that is intimate and private. No, I am not against public prayer and believe that when faithful followers of Christ come together – each one of us are seeking after guidance and wise counsel from our Heavenly Father. We are seeking the influence of the Holy Spirit to testify unto us the truthfulness of what is being shared and taught. However, when it comes to deep personal struggles in my own life – it is something that is deep and private. Between my Heavenly Father and me. Sure, I will seek out those whom I am able to trust and confide in and ask for them to pray for me as well.
Thoughtful Prayer is a Private and Intimate Matter
When it comes right down to it – personal prayer is something that is private and intimate. As mentioned before, when it comes to my own personal struggles – I really do take it to the Lord. And if need be, I will discuss certain situations with those whom I have confidence and trust in. It is not wanting others to pray – it is keeping what is private and sacred.
And it is what we find the Savior doing a lot of as we encounter Him throughout the gospels. Many times, he secluded himself away to pray quietly, to pray in solitude. Even when he was in the Garden of Gethsemane – He withdrew from the three disciples he brought into the Garden with him.
Thoughtful prayer – done in solitude and privacy – allows us to be completely vulnerable with our Heavenly Father. Allows us to really take time to examine ourselves and present our own doubts and fears. And yes – to even question Him in a way that is respectful and honoring. It is in those moments of solitude – we are able to express our own deep convictions and heartfelt words. Sometimes a personal and private prayer is simply emptying ourselves out through weeping and tears. No words – simply allowing us to weep before the Lord.
Sometimes, it means we are expressing our own frustrations. And one ought to tread quite lightly on this understanding because there is a fine line to sharing our own frustrations with the Lord and out right engage in callous and hostile anger that is quite blasphemous. Still, our Heavenly Father is one of mercy and grace. He knows our hearts and what we are struggling with.
Accept Reality for what it is
Finally, one of the lessons I had to learn is to come to a place and accept the reality for what it is. Without bias, unrealistic expectations, criticism or condemnation. Simply accept the situation for what it is and still live faithfully to the teachings of my Heavenly Father. Along with this, I had to stop comparing myself to others who received answers to their own prayers. You know, those who were experiencing the same challenges and situations I have struggled with.
How did I accomplish this? It started about 8 years ago when I entered into a community college program and worked toward becoming a substance use disorder professional. Specifically, when I began to study and understand the nature of mindfulness. At first, I was a bit against anything that stemmed from Eastern tradition. I had no notion or interest in studying Buddhism. Not until I started seeing certain scriptures that I have had some serious questions about. Some of the teachings of Christ started making sense on a deeper level.
From there, I began to see how mindfulness plays within the Christian life by finding resources and teachings from well-known theologians. What struck me is that while Christian Mindfulness focused more on establishing our faith on Jesus Christ – other mindful traditions focused more on self-actualization and transcendence. And I preferred to focus more on mindfulness that centered on the teachings of Christ and building faith in Christ and what He taught.
After 8 years – and having since left the field – my own personal goal was to delve deeper into what it means to live a mindful Christian life. Furthermore, when I came across A.W. Tozer’s work titled The Crucified Life I began to develop a desire to focus on not only living a mindful life with intent, meaning, and purpose as Christ being the foundation of my faith. I wanted to exercise that faith and live according to what Christ taught – and that is to deny myself of all things and to take up my cross every day as a way to follow Him. It is the very reason for this website and the content – to help others come to their own place of experiencing such a spiritual awakening and revival of their spirit. To garner a fresh new faith and perspective.
And it began with understanding the cornerstone of thoughtful prayer as a spiritual discipline. How else am I going to live a mindful and crucified life if I continued to struggle with prayer. Continue to doubt the goodness of my Heavenly Father? Complain about not having received answers to prayers that have long since abandoned? Where had that left me? Wallowing in my own mire of self-pity and resentment.
So, what did I do?
I had to accept the situation for what it was. And what was that situation? Several years ago, I had experienced a season of being homeless. At the time, I had two children who were young. And because of experiencing homelessness – my desire was to do the best I was capable of doing to work. In the course of time, I found out there was a third child as well. The situation I had struggled with was how alienated I was from those children. No, it was not by my own choosing either.
Parental Alienation is quite a real threat that sadly happens throughout America (and I am sure in other countries as well). For me, it was based on certain individuals in my life that made concerted efforts to hold back any real and meaningful relationship with my children. My oldest son was prevented to have any contact with me by his grandmother. My other two children were taken and moved without any notification or information associated with where they were or even how they were doing.
The difficulty of dealing with this came whenever I saw a father spending time with his children. I’d literally broke in tears more often than not and cried – begging, asking, seeking, and praying to no avail. The more I worried about it, the more I sunk deeper and deeper into depression. And for me growing up as a Latter-day Saint – family is key and central to my belief. Having a family, being a responsible priesthood holder, and helping to raise kids faithfully weighed heavy upon my soul. I had failed as a father. I failed to do all that I could to fight for them. Failed to fulfill my obligations.
Neither did it help hearing people say to me how I was a dead-beat father. How I neglected my responsibilities as a father. How I do not do enough to fight for them. Little had they known what the personal struggles and thoughts plagued me and cry of my soul unto God had always been.
So, what did I do? I had to come to the realization and accept the reality that because my Heavenly Father knows me, knows my heart, knows my situation – all I could do as a father is pray for them. My prayers no longer were full of weeping. They were not self-deprecating. Nor were they full of frustration, anger, and resentment. At some point – I had to say – according to your will and fully commit my children over to my Heavenly Father.
Where am I at today with this? Well, I have a beautiful thirteen-year-old daughter that I admire and love. Her mother and I do our best to co-parent. While I am grateful to be her father – I do still feel incomplete. Still struggle with those thoughts of self-doubt. Question myself on whether or not I am a good father.
What about my three older children? All I am able to say is that within a few months of my youngest daughter being born, my oldest daughter reached out to me on Facebook. At the time – she was fifteen. Our relationship is still fragile. Simply because the last time I had seen my oldest daughter – she was five. She is much older now and checks in with me at least once a week. I check in with her as well. We have even connected a handful of times throughout the years.
Do I still question myself when it comes to being her father – yes. Do I still struggle with self-doubt? Yes.
Was this an answer to those prayers I had long abandoned years ago? Yes, in that I am doing the best I am capable of doing as a father. No, because my desire is still to have my relationship with all of my children restored. Will that happen? I honestly do not know. All I am able to do is to continue living in faith, leaving it in the hands of my Heavenly Father, and be faithful to the teachings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Continue to pray for them and if there is a day where we are reunited, it will definitely be a blessing. If not – then it is something I need to accept and not worry over.
So, what is One to Do?
Going back to the question we all have:
So what do you do if for years and years when you pray all you hear is silence, a great big black hole of nothingness? I choose to believe in prayer but it certainly hasn’t been a comfort to me most of the time. I WANT this to be different. And it’s not because I’m not trying to live righteously, or not making my prayers more thoughtful. I can always improve but I just rarely have positive experiences with prayer.
My answer – do what you believe is in your best interest and seek comfort from our Heavenly Father. Keep striving to live faithfully and do all that you are able to do through Christ. Be kind to yourself and recognize when that inner critic begins to sow seeds of doubt. Keep praying and maybe change what you are praying for. And accept the reality for what it is.
It is quite easy to quote all the scriptures on prayer. It is quite easy to provide teachings on the importance of prayer. And it is quite easy to simply say – “all you need to do is Trust God”. No, I prefer to answer an honest and sincere question with an honest and sincere answer. And that is:
Sometimes that is all we may be able to do – put one foot in front of the other and take each day as it comes and not worry about tomorrow. Placing our faith in Christ and seek the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33).
For me, the only comfort I have found is in this song by Michael McLean:
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