Jesus encourages us to pray with expectation, “Ask and you shall receive.” We read multiple stories of parents with sick children taking Jesus up on this offer, followed by him healing their dying sons and daughters. But my cries as a father have been met with thundering silence from above, echoing the haunting reality of Lamentations 3: “Though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer.”
After finding out we were pregnant, our prayers boiled down to one, simple request: “Lord, protect our baby.” But we did not receive what we asked for. More than that, we were granted something more horrific than we could ever imagine. Our son would not only die, but his cruel and fatal condition would tear him away from us slowly.
The agony paralyzed us, but we still sought to honor the Lord, and felt that the best way we could do that was by carrying our son to term. Multiple ultrasounds confirmed our son’s diagnosis, completely diminishing my strength to pray for healing. Though we still believed God could heal, and we welcomed others to pray to that end, it seemed clear to us that He had chosen a different route for our family. Our path forward would be a fight to trust God’s goodness in the midst of our grief, knowing He uses present suffering to produce something beautiful in eternity. But there was a deep and painful confusion as we entrusted ourselves – and our child – to the Lord who was withholding what we desired and allowing what was destroying us.
Even though I felt so hurt by the Lord, I somehow gathered enough faith to make one more request on behalf of my dying son. One minute. I just wanted one minute with Eli alive. 60 seconds – so I could hear the sound of his cry, look into his eyes, hold him and speak to him while he breathed his only breaths.
As I approached my son’s birth day with a terrified longing – dreaming about finally getting to hold him, haunted by the moment when I would have to let him go – I was tormented further by my own prayer. Will God answer me? On the one hand, the request seemed too bold. The statistics were decisively against Eli, even for a mere minute of life. On the other hand, the prayer seemed too simple. After all, the God who spoke creation into existence and raised the dead to life is the one who told me, “Ask and you shall receive.”
As labor started ten weeks early, I knew that my prayer might be shut out again. Yet, I still held on to hope. In all the panic as delivery began, I was even mindful and naive enough to fumble for my phone and push record, just in case Eli came into this world crying, hoping to capture the beautiful sound forever.
But our son arrived with deafening silence. There was no crying. There was no heartbeat. There was no life.
The cries I desperately hoped to hear from my boy were substituted with our own, uncontrollable weeping. With tear-flooded eyes and trembling hands, I cut my son’s umbilical cord and his lifeless body was laid on my wife’s chest. There our family huddled, two suffocated parents holding their breathless child.
Though I called and cried for help, the Lord shut out my prayer.
The traumatic silence, from my God and from my son, has devastated my soul. Yet I know that my God does not demand my silence, but gives me permission to voice my sorrow, my confusion, my despair. Jesus himself called and cried out only to be shut out. So I will continue to groan loudly in the darkest days of my unanswered prayers.
“O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.”