Snakes and Stones and Broken Bones

Garth Brooks once sang a clever country song thanking God for unanswered prayer:

Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers / Remember when you’re talkin’ to the man upstairs / That just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care / Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers

Okay, I’m fine with all that. After all, ever since Sunday school I was taught that God answers our prayers either “Yes,” “No,” or “Wait.” And especially we parents can understand that when a son or daughter asks us for something we may respond with one of these answers—“Yes, you can have a new bike.” “No, you can’t have it because you didn’t take care of the one you had.” “Wait, son, you might be getting a new bike for Christmas from Grandma and Grandpa.” None of us would answer, “No, you can’t have a new bike. In fact, I’m going to take away the one you have just for asking.”

But that’s just what God did to me on Saturday, November 17.

My wife and I dropped off our five-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter at a backyard birthday party at 1:00. By 1:30 we were at home sipping tea, taking advantage of a couple hours of peace and quiet with the two older kids down the street and our youngest taking a nap.

Just when we got comfortable, I felt an overwhelming urge to pray for the safety of my son and daughter. I said to my wife, “Let’s pray for Sophie and Lucas.” I prayed a prayer for safety, asking God to protect them, to keep them from harm. When we finished my wife told me she had already prayed for them on her own, and that she was glad I asked her to pray the same thing as a couple. So, having prayed for the safety of my kids, we settled in our chairs, grabbed our cups of tea, and . . .

The phone rang. We eyed each other nervously. I picked it up and, sure enough, the neighbors informed us that Lucas had hurt his foot and couldn’t walk. It turns out he had broken his right foot by playing too wildly without shoes.

Now, when it comes to God’s answers to prayer, I can always handle “Yes,” “No,” and “Wait.” But getting a stone instead of a loaf, or a snake instead of a fish is downright unacceptable (see Matthew 7:8–10). Whatever happened to Matthew 18:19?—“If two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven.” Not only did my wife and I pray in agreement that Sophie and Lucas wouldn’t get hurt, but it also seemed that the same burden to pray for our children’s safety was placed on both of our hearts at the same time!

My experience with God that weekend completely contradicted His promises in His Word. God let me down.

Or did He?

As my wife and I reflected on this incident, I began to realize that our definition of “rock” and “snake” are far too limited. God knows the future and all potential futures just as clearly as He knows the actual present or past. Clearly He has a much better perspective from which to determine what constitutes a rock or snake in my life.

I’m convinced that sometimes when we ask for a loaf (something meant to nourish, strengthen, and promote life), we’re unknowingly asking for a rock. What if God “ignored” our prayer for our children’s safety at that party and allowed Lucas’s foot to be broken in order to answer our prayer in a greater way? Perhaps by forcing Lucas to be confined to a foot brace for six weeks God prevented something far more severe—perhaps even deadly—from occurring. Even from our limited, finite perspective, sometimes the most loving thing we can do will cause temporary pain. What father wouldn’t tackle his toddler to the ground to save him from a speeding car? Or what mother wouldn’t hurt her one-year-old’s feelings to keep her from drinking Drano? In fact, almost every life-saving surgery involves a bloody, invasive procedure followed by a long, painful recovery and some kind of scarring. Yet we not only willingly submit to this pain . . . we pay thousands of dollars for it!

So, on Saturday, November 17, my wife and I may have asked for a rock, but God gave us a loaf. We may have begged for a snake; He provided a fish. We may have been asking God for something as whining children; He responded as a loving Father.

I don’t know any of this for certain, of course. But I can dismiss my disappointment in our unanswered prayer because of a few important facts about God: He is good; He is all-powerful; He is all-knowing; and He loves us.

Thank You, God, for my son’s broken foot.

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