In some of the early mid-stages of my mom’s battle with dementia, she would have delusions and hallucinations. She believed that there was a conspiracy to kill her and that my dad was sometimes a part of that conspiracy. Sometimes my dad would have me come over to their house and I could calm her down. As the disease progressed though, it became increasingly difficult to calm her.
There was one particularly bad episode in which he called me to come over, and this time I became a part of the conspiracy to kill her. She paced non-stop, angry and terrified, and nothing me or my dad would say could calm her down.
My mom was one that always drew comfort from God and from the Bible, especially the Psalms. So, I began reading her favorite Psalm out loud, praying with all my heart that she would calm down. I just knew with everything in me that God would answer this prayer. After all, she was such a faithful follower and prayer warrior, I knew He loved her, I was reading from His Word, and I had all the faith in the world that He was going to hear and answer my cry.
She didn’t calm down though. If anything, she seemed to get more agitated.
God did not answer my prayer.
No one had prepared me to deal with that. There had always been an answer. There had always been a reason for things. This non-answer made no sense to me. I felt utterly betrayed and not for the first (or last) time did I cry out to God, “Where are You?!”
My faith was in Him, and not in His answering prayer. I knew God was real and was there, because He held my faith. I knew He was there, because I couldn’t walk away. I was so angry with Him, you better believe I wanted to walk away! I wanted to say He wasn’t real and just be done with Him. It would have been easier to say that He wasn’t there, then to try and grapple with why He wouldn’t hear my prayer. But I couldn’t. Because in the very depths of my being, I feel Him. He’s how I breathe, and while I felt deeply wounded, I knew it would kill me to walk away.
This happened over 5 years ago. And I still wrestle with this situation. Over the years, I have come to believe that prayer is not about changing God’s mind, but more about shaping who I am in God, and teaching me about who God is. For me, prayer has become an acknowledgement and seeking of God’s presence, opening myself more and more to Him. I’m learning to accept situations as they are, although I will still pray for God’s goodwill and mercy. But I don’t necessarily look for a specific answer anymore. I just want to walk with God, whatever may be going on.
In light of the ways my prayer life has changed, I was thinking back on that situation, and asked myself, if this happened now, how could my response and prayer be different then it was 5 years ago? What if I had gone into the situation acknowledging that God was already there, instead of looking for Him in an answer to prayer and a removal of suffering?
Because He was there. He was there in the suffering. But we have such an aversion to suffering, and can’t see how God could be in it! I had always been taught to try and pray it away. But sometimes, bad things just happen. Sometimes, for whatever reason, God doesn’t remove it. But we aren’t alone. Because He loves us, He suffers with us. He was born out of suffering, into a suffering world, where He touched and walked with those who suffered, and He then experienced great suffering at humanity’s hands. Our God knows suffering, so we are not alone.
And that day, my mom was not alone. In love, we did everything we could for her, and my dad patiently stayed by her side, enduring accusations and her terror, until the episode finally subsided. And there was the evidence of God and His love. As He suffered with us, we suffered with her.
Do I still question God about that situation? Yes. I’m human, and I don’t totally understand the whole idea of suffering, so I will probably always have questions and get angry at God. But He is gentle and He holds my faith. My hope is in God. Not in what He does for me. Not in His protection. Not in His blessings. Not in God’s promises from the Bible. I’m thankful for them, but my hope does not lie there. My hope lies in God alone. Because when all else falls away, God remains.