MECHANICS OF PRAYER: The Prayer That Is Never Answered (includes the Realm of Acceptance)

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The Prayer That Is Never Answered (includes the Realm of Acceptance) Julia Marks

In almost every way, in our relationship with God there is a continuum: an endless road that allows for progress, for improvement.  For almost everything, in our relationship with God, there is no such thing as a closed door.

There is, however, one exception.

When my daughter was little, during that wondrous time that is understatedly described as the “terrible” twos (if this is terrible, what, then, is horrific?), she would work herself up into near volcanic eruptions over, essentially, nothing.  And, no matter what was happening in her life, no matter what was troubling her, I was always to blame.

Ah, the joys of being a mother.

And, oddly enough, now that she’s an adult, it’s still pretty much the same.


The way she would express her anger with me (even if I could perceive no direct cause for the anger) was to, predictably, say, NO!

Being me, and having been “trained” by God since I was a tyke, not much older than she was at the time of this anecdote, I countered her tantrum with a means that I had not found in child-rearing manuals or from other mothers.


I just, very gently, accepted her reality.

I would say something.  She would yell, NO!  And I would bow (figuratively) and accept that as a command to me.

And I would go about my business.

And she would stand there, open mouthed, with nowhere to go with her rage.

I enjoyed this dynamic most at the dinner table.

When she was especially piqued, although she was girl who loved her food, she would take her rage out on my service of her.

I always waited patiently for dessert.

Would you like some chocolate ice cream? I would ask sweetly.


All right, then.  And she would watch me put the ice cream back in the freezer.

Then the eyes would bulge, the mechanisms of her spinning brain would become very apparent, and she would become desperate to undo what she had just wrought.

But.  But.  But.  She would stammer.

And I would go about my business.

It was, to be honest, a most effective tool to end that behavior.

There is a dynamic that exists between God and us: we pray.  God listens.  God responds.

And there is a reality that we experience sometimes when we receive the answer to a prayer most earnestly prayed: we realize that we don’t want it.

Or, we don’t want it in the form that it has been given to us.

The Realm of Acceptance, the fourth realm of God, is the realm that has the following definition: when you ask God for something, and he gives it to you.

It is not the fourth (or almost the most complex) realm for no reason.  We think that it would be the realm that we wanted most.  Not like surrender (otherwise known as suffering), or discipline, or even obedience.

No.  Finally, we feel, we have gotten to a realm that we will only enjoy.


Most of the evolution of our history with God is based on our disapproval of what we receive from God as a response to our prayer.

I wanted a job, something like being a doctor.  And you send me out to clean septic tanks.

I wanted an education, something magical, like philosophy.  And you sent me to welding school.

I wanted a mate, someone along the lines of Brad Pitt.  And you send me Danny DeVito.

It makes me think of a scene from The Nun’s Story, the story of a woman who joins a religious order with one goal in mind: to study tropical medicine so that she could be sent to the Congo as a nurse.

And where do they send her after she completes her study of tropical medicine? To a hospital for the insane, where she is assigned a post of sitting in a room for eight hours straight listening to her patients kicking the lids of their enclosed tubs.


You prayed.  God answered.

The key to acceptance is: gratitude.

Oh, wait, I forget for a bit what I was writing about.

Here’s the deal with God and prayer: you pray, God responds, you recoil in horror and reject what has been given you, and. . . .

you start praying again.

The answer to that prayer will be, no.

Not, NO!

Just, no.

In God, once a prayer has been answered, there are no do-overs.

In God, there is no returns counter.  No handy clerk that asks to see your receipt and wants to know if you want your return in cash or in credit.

I’m not going to even begin to understand what it must be like for God, other than my own very small (in comparison) experience with my daughter.

I give you life, I give you a home, I give you meals, I give you whatever it is you appear to want or need.  And you scream, NO!

It’s not that I didn’t understand her heart and mind and, yes, even soul at the time of the scream.  It’s just that, in truth, there’s no real way to go with such madness.

And perhaps our kicking Danny DeVito to the curb is not the same kind of madness, but I imagine to God it may appear that way.

You asked.  I answered.

You have a problem?

I have discovered in my own life that when something like that happens, when an answer to a prayer brings about something that truly is horrible, that the way to handle such a conundrum (can’t reject it, can’t accept it), is to just keep to the mantra, thank you.

And going along with the gift.

That’s what the nun did in the Nun’s Story: she accepted her assignment.  She even found a way to stop herself dreaming of nursing in the Congo.

And after a few years, her next assignment was to be a nurse in the Congo.

That’s the way acceptance works.

You may be given the job of cleaning septic tanks, but if you actually accept that job, it may very well lead you to being trained as a medical assistant, which could lead to even bigger and better things.

Just, whatever you do, when you freak out at what shows up at your door, don’t slam the door in your gift’s face.

Just smile, repeat, thank you, infinitely to God, and go on with your life.

It is a most fascinating expression of faith: sit with the insane women kicking their tubs.  Keep your hands folded, and your mind calm.

And the world may just open up to you.

Acceptance really does mean, accepting just what God gives you.  With gratitude.

Just, whatever you do, don’t reject the gift and start your prayer over again.

You’ll find the only closed door in God.



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