I wrote this blog post 7 years ago. At the end of this year, which has been exhausting for many of us and tragic for some, I thought it might be worth sharing again.
Years ago my husband worked at a community mental health clinic. December was an extremely busy month for new clients. His coworkers told him that every year between Thanksgiving and mid-January the clinic was at it’s very busiest. Christmas is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but for many people the expectation of peace, joy and love drives home the reality of just how hard life actually is. It seems like the fact that it’s Christmas should make everything ok, but it doesn’t. People get sick during the holidays; people die. Families argue; people feel betrayed. Tragedies occur, and even when they don’t, life is hard. People feel anxious, inadequate, weary, and alone.
For our family, Christmas is about the promise of Christ’s birth—a promise of better things to come: eternal life, happiness, peace, and a release from sin and weakness. This means Christmas can be a time of gratitude, a little island of solace amidst the turbulence of the world. A time to reflect on blessings received and prayers answered.
But perhaps, like many people whose lives appear just about perfect on the outside, you have a hidden sorrow. Perhaps you’ve been praying for something for so long that you’re beginning to wonder if this prayer will ever be granted. You’re beginning to realize, with no small amount of apprehension, that this blessing you desperately want might not be one you receive. At least not in this life. And this life lasts for a pretty long time.
When that’s the case, it can be hard to feel joyful, even during the Christmas season. When someone you love is sick, or you’re out of work, or your life is filled with quiet desperation for one reason or another, it can be hard to feel full of faith. It can be hard, when our prayers are not being answered the way we want, not to think that perhaps they won’t be answered at all.
Ten years ago (now 17 years ago) my husband and I had twins boys, born seven weeks premature. They were monoamniotic twins, meaning they shared an amniotic sac, which made the pregnancy high-risk and required me to spend seven weeks in the hospital before delivery. They were born early, so they both spent time in the NICU. Once we finally brought the boys home we were grateful and so relieved. Our older son was barely two and we knew it would be a difficult couple of years, but we felt incredibly blessed to have three healthy children.
After a few weeks, when both grandmas had come to help for a while and then gone back home, the twins started getting fussy. They always seemed hungry but didn’t want to eat, and soon they were crying for hours each day. Our doctor told us it was colic and it would get better eventually, but as the weeks passed the boys went from fussy to inconsolable. If they were awake they were crying. Trying to feed them was a nightmare – I’d assumed I could snuggle both boys while nursing them at the same time, but they wouldn’t nurse and instead I ended up bottle feeding one while the other laid on the couch next to me screaming, then feeding the next while the first one screamed. My two year old, tired of having to amuse himself while I tried to calm the babies, started asking when we could give them back.
I remember one day sitting on the couch in the living room of our small apartment when the twins were just a few months old. Both babies were screaming and nothing I tried seemed to help. It was probably only mid-morning, but if felt like it had already been light years since breakfast. I had no idea how I would make it until 8 o’clock that night, when my husband would be back from graduate school.
Soon my two-year old started crying because I wasn’t playing with him, and it wasn’t long before I was crying too. I’m well aware that my experience wasn’t unique – countless parents have experienced this exact same moment – but at the time I felt overwhelmed, worried, and so very inadequate. I was desperate for heavenly aid.
And so I prayed. I knew God could hear me, and I knew He loved me. I knew that taking care of His children was the most worthwhile thing I could be doing with my time, and I knew He would want to help me. And so I prayed that the babies would fall asleep so I’d be able to read to my older son. I told my Father in Heaven I just needed an hour of peace. I pleaded for an hour of peace, and I had faith that God could give me what I asked for.
The babies didn’t fall asleep. In fact, they didn’t even stop crying. And I didn’t feel comforted or strengthened or less overwhelmed. I eventually calmed my two-year-old by putting on yet another Disney movie, and I made it through the rest of the day walking our tiny apartment with a baby in each arm. The babies must have napped at some point—I don’t really remember the details of that particular day—but I do remember the feeling I had when I realized that God wasn’t going to give me the help I prayed for.
Compared to most people in the history of this world my life was still pretty amazing. We weren’t facing the awful trials and tragedies that so many people experience. Looking back seventeen years later, that day certainly wasn’t one of the hardest I’ve experienced. But at the time, with months of crying babies and hardly any sleep looming ahead of me, I wondered how I’d make it if God wouldn’t even answer the simplest of prayers.
A few days after this experience I got a call from a woman in my congregation at church. She asked how I was doing and if I needed any help. I wanted to shout “Yes! Please come help me!” but I was so embarrassed that I couldn’t even take care of my own children that instead I told her things were going just fine.
She replied by saying she was on her way over. When she got to the door and found both babies screaming she told me to take my 2 year old and leave. She all but pushed us out the back door, telling me she’d be just fine with the twins. Jackson and I went to the park, where I pushed him on the swings and he laughed and laughed and I remembered why I’d wanted more children.
My friend came back the next week, and the next. She organized other women from church to come and help as well for a couple of months, but even after I adamantly told her I really was ok (a new pediatrician had finally diagnosed the twins with reflux and medication was starting to help) she continued to come to my apartment one morning a week. She kept coming for an entire year. She had five children of her own and was juggling an extremely demanding church assignment. Ten years later I still cry when I think of what she did for me.
I knew from the beginning that this woman was a blessing in my life, and that my Heavenly Father was helping me through her. What I never quite realized until a few weeks ago was this: When I prayed for the babies to just fall asleep, God did not answer my prayer the way I wanted. But a few days later, He gave me the answer I needed. He touched the heart of an earthly angel, telling her to ignore what I said and listen to what I needed. Even though His answer was less immediate, it was infinitely more lasting.
In my life, some prayers have been answered immediately. Others have been answered in ways I didn’t expect, and still others have been answered with a feeling of peace and the knowledge that things will be ok even if they don’t turn out the way I’d like. But there have also been times I have prayed in faith and haven’t received any answer at all, not an idea of what I should do or even a whisper of comfort.
When you’ve been praying the same prayer that goes unanswered for years and years, it can be hard to feel full of faith. In those moments, belief becomes a choice. In those moments, I choose to believe that—just like on that difficult morning filled with crying babies—even though God isn’t giving me the answer I’ve asked for, He will eventually give me the answer I need.
That sounds like the end of the story, right? Well, not quite. I’m scared that the answer I “need” may simply be the opportunity to continue struggling through, and that my hidden sorrow isn’t going to go away any time soon. Sometimes it’s hard to be patient, and it’s hard not to question why. C.S. Lewis put it well: “We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” But I find that there is power in choosing to believe, even when the belief doesn’t change the situation. Perhaps that’s because it changes me.
And perhaps as you’ve read my story some of you are thinking back on times when you prayed for help, but no help came. I am sorry for that. I don’t know why God sent someone to help me when my twins were babies while so many moms struggle alone. I don’t know why He answered that prayer and He hasn’t answered others, at least not in a way I’ve been able to recognize. Honestly, there are so many things I don’t know. But I believe that He knows, and that is enough. I choose to believe.
Seven years on from the original writing of this post, and 17 years since those twins were babies, I’ve experienced new challenges that have stretched me in ways I couldn’t have imagined, as all of us do. But I’m beginning to see the ways I have changed as a result. Every day, I still choose to believe.
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” – C.S. Lewis
“Some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don’t come until heaven; but for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come.” – Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
I hope you are having a joyful holiday season. And if your joy is tempered with sorrow this year, I hope you can hold on and believe in better things to come.