As a clergyperson, I am often asked two questions: Does God answer prayer? If so, how do we know when God is sending us a message? I answer, “Yes!” God does answer prayer. Sometimes, though, we need help interpreting God’s message. This is because we may interpret in our favor, hoping God’s will aligns with ours.
Years ago I had the experience of being infertile. I tried month after month to no avail. I always interpreted this experience as God saying “No” to me. Well, the answer for that month was No. My spiritual advisor informed me that
God answers prayer in 3 ways:
- Not at this time
We have to be careful to understand that “no” isn’t necessarily never. It may be that ‘no’ means not yet. The reason why we can’t see that the present “no” is actually “not yet” is because we are right in the middle of the story and lack the perspective of understanding. We must reserve judgment until time has passed.
I wrote a blog about my infertility experience and how attached to the outcome I had been. Part of the issue was my attachment to the outcome. My attachment had me trapped. In this blog, I tell one of my favorite stories. https://rabbicosnowsky.com/desire-is-suffering/
Even though I eventually got the desired outcome (and then some as I had twins) had I understood the spiritual principles of how God answers prayer and how to be patient while waiting for the answer, I would have saved myself a lot of unnecessary suffering. So, the question is
How Do We Detach from Needing a Certain Outcome?
- To pray for the ability to detach from God’s answer to align with our will.
- Pray for the ability to align with God’s will.
- I can have something when it’s okay not to have it. (This will be covered in subsequent blog posts.)
How do we know how to interpret an outcome?
Here’s another story:
When I was a junior in High School, I really wanted to be the captain of the swim team. When the next captain was announced, it was not me. I was devastated and responded by quitting! I got a job as a lifeguard instead.
Lifeguarding was fun and lucrative as well. I met a lot of people and learned how to work a room as well as save lives. But the most important experience I had that year was to sit with someone and hold space for them. My friend explained the reality of the open heart surgery he was facing later that week. He knew that he might not make it through the surgery. My job was to sit in silence with him and let him process. He did not survive the surgery. I believe he intuitively knew, on some level, that he would not make it.
If I had gotten the job as swim team captain, I would not have had that moment with him. It was a life-changing moment for me. It laid the seeds for me to later serve God and become a rabbi. I remember knowing that it was the first time I played the part which God had given to me. I learned to be silent in a moment of holiness.
Often we don’t realize that we are getting to play a role that God assigns. What it feels like to us is that our unanswered prayer and our unfulfilled desires are going largely unnoticed! So we have to trust that:
- There is a greater plan.
- We don’t necessarily know what it is.
- We need the perspective of time to understand why things happened they way they did.
Even when our dreams and desires go unfulfilled, it means that God has something else in store for us which can be infinitely more wonderful and rewarding. If we really believe that we are here to play the role God assigns, we have to accept the various ways God answers our prayer and petitions. I will be delving into more ways that God answers prayers in subsequent posts.