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The worn piece of paper fell out from between the pages of my Bible. Titled “Missions Impossible,” it contained a succinct list of prayer requests for close friends from our years in New England. The concerns spanned the range of human need – prayers for children and churches, marriages and money – but they shared one characteristic in common: each represented a seemingly impossible situation.

I recall sitting in a small prayer gathering at church one night staring at another piece of paper. This one listed needs for which we had prayed just the week prior, although in some cases the requests went back many months or even years: a terminally-ill parent, a lost child, a desperately needed job. Those present studied the list and then each other, wonder on our faces. In just seven days, we had seen God do the impossible: heal a parent, restore a child, and supply a job.

Unfortunately, life is rarely like that. Though we’re taught as Christ-followers to persevere in prayer, sometimes it seems as if we’re beating on heaven’s door with bruised knuckles in the dark, as someone once said. We pray and plead for God’s intervention but heaven is silent. We call out to Him but we hear nothing in response.

A friend whose husband was battling aggressive cancer told me of the time she broke emotionally.

I hate you God!” she screamed. “Why aren’t you answering us?” And yet even as the words left her lips, she had the strong sense of being firmly held, flailing arms and all, by a Father who cared deeply for the pain of His child.

In our darkest moments we might even echo the cry of Christ on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Where are you, daddy? The enemy seems to be winning. Are you really there? Do you truly care?

As I have prayed impossible prayers I have asked some of those same questions.  Why did her husband have to die, Lord? How can  my friend’s child live in such excruciating pain?  Where are you in this horrible mess?

Yet it strikes me that the very first question asked in the recorded history of the universe was not “Where are you, God?” but rather God’s calling out to Adam, “Where are you?”

Sometimes, like our first parents, it’s our own sin and shame that causes us to turn away from the One who made us. Contrition draws us close again, yet even when our conscience is clear our vision of God remains blurred. We prefer Him to be the benevolent Father who is bound by His goodness to bestow only blessings on His children, but we fail to see that a loving parent must also permit the growth that comes only through suffering.

“Push through the pain,” the obstetrician urged me when my babies were born. “Push through the pain.”

The discipline to push through the pain of seemingly unanswered prayer can spur spiritual growth beyond our wildest imagining. As David marveled in the Psalms, “Thou hast enlarged me in my distress.”

In the Scriptures, timing appears to be far more important to God than time itself. As we wait, God is at work in us conforming us to the very image of His own son. What He wants to do in us as we wait is perhaps even more important than what we wait for.

Like me, have you mistaken God’s silence for His absence?  He has not abandoned you. Persevere in prayer (Romans 12:12). Continue to pray the impossibilities of life, knowing that nothing – nothing! – is impossible with God.

And one day you might pick up that prayer list and find to your delight that it had “Mission: Possible” written on it all along.

 – 2010 Maggie Wallem Rowe