What If the Answer Is No?

woman looking down
What if God’s answer to one of our prayers is “no”? We are given this answer at times. Sometimes when we are told “no” we easily accept the answer we are given, because what we are asking for is something that really did not matter that much. Occasionally, though, we find ourselves being told “no” when every part of our being wants the answer to be “yes.” What happens to our relationship with God then? Does our relationship with God completely fall apart? Does our entire relationship with God depend on God answering our prayers?

Jesus did not get the “yes” he begged for with every part of his being: “Let this cup pass away from me” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus knew, though, that his prayer was heard, he knew God could answer his prayer, and he knew his Father would be there with him no matter what. Jesus’ relationship with God the Father did not fall apart when his prayer was not answered, because his relationship with God did not depend on answered prayers.

We are invited into a similar relationship—a relationship with God that trusts that our prayers are heard yet does not demand our prayers be answered in the way we might ask. We are invited into a relationship of confidence that God can answer our prayers, yet at the same time, we are invited into a relationship that asks us for complete surrender to God’s way. The relationship we are invited into with God is not an insurance policy that guarantees we get what we want. However, we are promised that God hears us and will be with us every step of the way.

I know many of us seek certain things “to pass away from us” in our own lives or in the lives of those we love. When we get an answer of “no” to a prayer we fervently prayed, may we continue to turn to Jesus to help us surrender to God’s will, and may we have the courage to let God take us deeper.

About Becky Eldredge 114 Articles
Becky Eldredge is a writer and spiritual director in Baton Rouge, LA. The author of Busy Lives & Restless Souls, Becky holds Bachelors and Masters Degrees in Education from Louisiana State University and a Masters in Pastoral Studies from Loyola University New Orleans. She has her Certificate in Spiritual Direction from Spring Hill College. Becky has been involved in ministry for more than 15 years, with the majority of her work in retreat ministry and adult faith formation. While ministry is one of her passions, her greatest joy is sharing life with her husband, Chris, and her children, Brady, Abby, and Mary.

39 Comments on What If the Answer Is No?

  1. When I pray, I don’t wait for a yes or a no, but take hope from knowing that God most often says,”Instead”. Just as we parents do when our children are headed into a dangerous situation, God offers alternatives. Do this; Take this; Be this, instead. If I focus on exploring the alternative God is offering, I don’t waste time waiting for the yes that is not meant to be or wallow in the rejection of the no.

  2. A day late in my response as I visit family, Great article and wonderful responses, thank you for discussing a difficult topic for many of us. The fact is Our Father does no best. I have learned that we should include in our prayers, Lord if it be according to your will when it comes to careeer descions, and in decisions that involves others to be patient and to wait on Him; He really does have a plan. When we come to the Lord. in our prayers for our loved ones that are astray our hurt, Lord open up their eyes that they may see your goodness, so often we see the no’s instead of looking at all the many yes’s that the Lord has provided.over the years. We are often leaking vessels that forget that the Lord has been GOOD and is faithful to be with us in our lourney. For those that feel as if God has abandoned you, this is not true, He has promised never to leave us or forsake us!! Blessings.

  3. I don’t understand the places in the Gospels in which Jesus says that if we ask for anything in his name that it will be given to us.

  4. When my husband left after 37 years of marriage, I prayed very diligently that he would return. That was not to be. God called me into the Roman Catholic expression of the Christian faith at that point of my life. I had previously been a follower of Christ but in a different denomination. That was incredibly healing and liberating for me. My priest told me that God had offered me the freedom to be myself as that was not possible for me in my marriage. God did not answer my prayer to have my husband return; however, God’s wisdom was even greater and more generous as life has brought me more joy than I ever could have imagined. God is good! Thank you for this post!

  5. I learned from Bo Sanchez to SEE, SOW, SURRENDER.
    In prayer, I ask God to See my request clearly and with feeling. “Lord, give me back control of this building.” And I feel peaceful in the midst of turmoil.
    I pray to have the courage to SOW, to do what needs to be done. For example, to gently guide my lawyer on the next step in our case.
    I then SURRENDER. “Look give me what I ask, or if you answer NO, give me something better. And I rest in Him. Sometimes still agitated. Sometimes sleepy. Sometimes distraught. But trusting HIM.
    Lord let me SEE things clearly and with feeling.
    Let me SOW and do and act as you guide and direct me.
    Let me SURRENDER. Lord give me this request, or something better. Then I wait. Trusting in His love and His grace.

  6. I had an experience in recent months that led me to believe I was hearing God’s call to do something that led me down a path that God created and called me too that was divinely inspired. I traveled in anintensely spiritual and uplifting journey. I believed I knew where that journey would leave me. To my shock and amazement and bafflement, that is not where the journey went. To say that I was shatteref is too small a statement. The words that I heard in my head were, “be still and know that I am God.” I went directly to Scripture. I could not believe what I was reading. They seem to be written directly at me. I kept hearing the message to be still. I prayed. I meditated. I talked with my spiritual director. It happens that the last stage of the journey I just went on Was a Ignation discernment process. I went to the book that had the steps and worked the process on this problem. It was transformative. For the first time I fully understood the Ignation process of spiritual indifference or is he also calls it spiritual freedom. I truly understood and wanted to give over all of my longing to God’s will and to be free to whatever God called me to do.

    Then a few weeks later my spiritual director mailed me a very small book about the gift of spiritual exercises. She did not know one of my favorite mentors wrote the book. I didn’t make it past the first few chapters and the description of Ignatius’ distinction between gift and possession. I realized that what had been given, the journey, was a gift and I was treating it as a possession. It was a gift that was to be used at the discretion of God.

    As so many said, looking back, it often takes time before we see the gift!

  7. I am also waiting for God’s answer to many fervent prayers. And this prayer helps me, “ I know, I am certain, I am convinced, even if I do not know how, when, and by what means, that the Lord will deliver me, and I will have victory in Jesus’ name.”

  8. I got an emphatic “no” to the life I so desperately wanted when I was in my 20s! It was so traumatic that I actually knew that I had hit rock-bottom. I sat around feeling sorry for myself for a while, then decided that I only had one course of action…to climb up out of the pit I was in. I didn’t give up on God, I spent many years trying to build a relationship with him. I am now 70 years old and have finally forgiven God for saying no! Ignatian spirituality has taught me so much. Finally, I’m at peace with God and myself. I pray earnestly that none of you have to wait this long to have your life turned around!

  9. God said no to my husband and myself many years ago and it took nearly 30 years to find that it was the best thing that ever happened to us. We were beginning his career and the job offer took us miles away from both families. It forced us to begin our new life far away from those we loved and make our own path in life. We did not have the resources available today nor did we have the finances to go back home whenever we wanted to.
    Today we see the benefits of that no. Joan

  10. Sometimes the “no” is more like “not now”. Or it is “not your way but Mine”. So it is easier for me to accept the Divine “no”. God does answer my prayers but my time is not God’s time. If I have faith, I will wait. If I have hope, I will not feel unanswered. If I have love, I will continue on doing whatever I can for others while I wait. God is always there, teaching me, loving me, caring about me. I rest in His arms.

  11. My husband passed away after suffering from cancer. I continue to go to Mass every day and be involved in various ministries and I Thank God for allowing me to do this; but I also pray that God will ease the hurt in my heart and let me wake up and once again think “it’s a beautiful day, and I am looking forward to what it will bring”. I haven’t felt this passion for life for quite some time. I think of the Blessed Mother, and the heartache she must have felt. I pray to be strong as she was strong.

  12. Am 41 yrs old, unmarried & childless. I have prayed for years for a spouse & beginning to wonder if the answer is No. Am really tired of the loneliness & I feel time is running out to conceive & raise a child. I had fibroids & went through surgery the other day. I feel frustrated, & angry because I don’t know what to do about this unfulfilled desires. Am beginning to loose interest in prayer… Discouraged … disappointed. I feel stuck in this dark place. How do I move on? How do I accept that my life will never be what I prayed?

    • I will not detail my struggle, but the answer was to find the companionship I desired in service, in honest prayer – like speaking to a friend,and in becoming attuned to the needs of those I met daily. God showed me that He had a plan that included work for me to do, right where I was, as I was. And, I also learned this: In marriage, you can still be very alone. Children are made to be loved, with no guarantee that they will be your companions for life.

    • Niffer,

      I too am unmarried, childless and often lonely. Older than you, I fear the future. However my prayer is now “not my will but Yours.” I pray for the courage to accept God’s will and face its challenges, knowing in my heart of hearts that God will pick me up and carry me when I believe I cannot go another step.
      I know God has great plans for me, different from what I desired. I must trust Him and follow where He leads.

    • Niffer,
      Please do not give up hope. God will answer your prayers. I was divorced at 38 with no children which I desperately wanted. My priest counseled me that one day I would know why this was happening in my life. I went through life and turned my attention to other things and was happy but always wondered why God did not answer this prayer. Then, at age 59, I met the most wonderful man with grown children and 5 years later we are married. I believe I am helping my husband with certain family issues. So God answered my prayers 20 years later in a most beautiful way. Certainly not the way I envisioned but so beautiful.

    • Niffer,
      Take heart. At 41 you are still young. I kid you not. I hear and know your pain, longing, and frustration. I hear and know the aching loneliness that accompanies such pain. Have faith and trust in God because He hears you, listens to you, is near you more now than in happier times. You may doubt that and rightly so. But know that God in his big loving heart cares about you and wants you to be happy. Don’t give up on Him. Don’t give up on yourself. All in due time.
      Peace,
      Marina

  13. As I was looking down closely to what I saw from this over-looking view where i stood again on this foggy day, i remember so quickly the question I often asked, “where have all these beauty comes?”

    Admitingly, when i was a kid, i would rather go singing my songs than study my leasons at home after school. I end up marrying a man my age “at seventeen.”

    Yet long before, I’ve dreamed of so many things; a house on top of the hill, a family with children my own, a loving husband that cares to take me into his world, and a penny to help me buy anything i want; a big diamond, a limousine with tented window pane, a house made of stones and a horse with wings for my flight.

    Well, but i thought, the talent i got can bring me up what i desire. Yet, today where have all these longing comes. It goes nowhere like the fogs fading on the gray horizon…

    I smiled and laugh out loud when I saw the sun shines back to where the trees stood still again, beaming and waving their leaves as though trying to reach out a hand to the thousands of generation, yet, has to come.

    Today, as i saw the fogs docked the mountain bed before the rain falls gently, i thought, “ah, this is God’s work, for me to be reminded again that no one is exempted to taste the goodness of the Lord,” whoever you are, and wherever you are in the world, these are all yours from God, a gift you never owed.

    I smiled again. Yes Lord, you are my dream comes true. Whatever, your will be done.

  14. Wow! What an insightful conversation. My prayer for ten years for my only child was answered this summer. God took him to heaven at age twenty-five. I have no children, nor will I ever have grandchildren. So I am seeking God’s will for my life again at age sixty. Yes, my life is about a personal relationship with God and trusting Him with the result. Your comments have confirmed my beliefs and given me peace.

  15. I am a Christian mystic and one of the things I have studied through God most of my life is the mechanics of prayer. I have come to “know” that in fact there is no “no” in the mind of God, and that with reference to prayer, what sounds like a “no” to us down here on Earth can be a number of things. First, it is that we are not telling the whole truth in our prayer to begin with, an occurrence that essentially nullifies our prayer. Second, we may be praying for something that isn’t real. In our minds it is, but in the reality of God, it isn’t. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen prayers that, in context, make absolutely no sense. And certainly wouldn’t to God. Things like praying for peace on Earth, when the matter at hand, like genocide, is much more tangible and concrete, and is the petitioner really willing to wait until peace occurs on Earth for God to take up the more pressing, the more real matter? Third, as someone above has noted, time is an element of prayer. And in this context, God does not control time. Sometimes we do. Sometimes we abandon the prayer for something else. Or stop working toward it. And lastly, at least for now, we have to be committed to the prayer. Committed to our bones. We have to pray it for as long as it takes. And pay the bill. Right before a prayer is answered we are sent something from God (I call it, the bill). It usually takes the form of “the last thing I would do for God.” It may be taking in your wife’s deadbeat, alcoholic brother. It may be working with AIDS patients. It could be anything. If you find your soul shying away from it, then it’s probably from God and is there as part of your spiritual growth. Pay the bill, sit back, and don’t forget to say, thank you. (Another problem with prayer: people often are shocked by receiving the answer to their prayer, because it doesn’t look exactly what they imagined it would look like, or they don’t like the added responsibility that this answer-to-a-prayer demands, or all sorts of things.)

  16. When the answer is not “yes”, wouldn’t it be so much easier on us if God would let us know He’ll get back to us on the subject at some future date? Instead, we wait in silence, wondering whether we’ve been heard at all. So we repeat the prayer, again and again, remembering the parable of the widow and the unjust judge, we pray without ceasing.

    Our family has been in just such a situation for the past four years with regard to a family member who has estranged himself from us. We wonder at times whether God hears our prayers, and if so why doesn’t He act? Why doesn’t He do something? Why doesn’t He….and then we remember, our time is not God’s time, and God works many miracles we are not privy to at the moment. The key is to remember that all our prayers are indeed heard, we can offer our pain, frustration, discouragement as a sacrifice to be joined to Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice.

    The bottom line is, don’t give up on God – He never gives us on us. The best is yet to come.

    • We have one of those estrangees too and I am one of those too, in part. God gives each of us free will and he will not stomp on that will in order to placate someone else. I just put God first and remember that it is my relationship with him, God, that is paramount and that if I ask for his will, that is what I will receive. No amount of forcing would work on me therefore no amount will work on someone else either. Only God knows what is in the mind and heart of every one of us.

      • I don’t think you are “one of those” in the same way “ours” is, who is someone much loved but in the throes of addiction. The only placating we seek is counseling and re-hab. There is no forcing to be done with this adult, but we do continue to pray for him. As for the rest of our family, we take consolation in God’s love for us all.

        • I can’t believe I just lost an entire reply. Try again. The man I loved was an alcoholic who would not get help and while the prayer troops stormed heaven his own iron will got in his own way. Our final conversation was eerie and shortly thereafter even God said it’s time. The silence that followed, had I understood its pull, was a door to mystery and around me and, unbelievably, the peace and joy of God who does love and care for every single one of us. Our prayers were heard. And answered.

          And the dreams that followed, showed us that he is fine and praying for us.

          • We’ve considered this outcome as a distinct possibility as well. All the prayers combined don’t trump iron will and denial. As you do, we, too, put our relationship with God first, are prepared to accept He will be there for us whatever the future brings. I appreciate your sharing your story – there are many of us in this predicament – J

          • I wonder, Jean, if the lesson for us at the end of the day is our status under God. We understand finally our absolute dependence on God and our own powerlessness thereof. It seems to me throughout the past years moreso than those previous that God brings this home adamantly, over and over again. He needs, he who needs nothing, for us to understand his absolute authority. One day we’ll find out all about it!

          • To your final statement, yes, I agree with you – you hit the nail on the head. When we accept our powerlessness and submit entirely to God’s authority we are making progress. It’s not an event, either, is it, but a lifelong process, and when the answer to a prayer seems to be “no”, it is a greater exercise in faith to accept it and move on.

          • That’s it exactly. Life is forward motion. Interesting that many of us want to keep looking backwards and forwards instead of just rolling with the punches.

  17. This is really on point for me. I had a huge discussion with God on this very topic last week. I have prayed for two things for two people I love very much. These are things that lots of people have and are not miracle cures or anything like that. One of the things I pray for is the most basic need – a job for someone I love. I was so upset by what I felt to be SILENCE! I felt like I was beating my head against the wall. Was I doing it wrong? Was I missing something? I want to understand the silence. It has been years of prayer for both requests.

    This helped some. A little more perspective.

    When my head is clear and I am doing less ranting, I remember that there are three answers: An emphatic “YES!”, a “Not right now” and “I have something so much better in mind for you.” I try to hold tight to that. So, according to my own thinking, it is probably not “no.”

    m.

    • I used to ask for specifics too (a job was one of those) and then I realized I have to just ask for God’s will. That way I’m not telling him what to do or how to deliver it. The job — I grabbed one from the Classifieds and ten years later I am still glad I did, maybe it doesn’t utilize my brains but it does provide for me and suits my cranky personality since I work in my own office (the world gets less stress that way, see). I did not appreciate that no but it sure worked out b eautifully.

      • Marg,

        I, too, have felt the silence after asking for something for a long time. On days that we struggle, that silence from God can feel overwhelming. It makes us question, “ARe you there, God?”

        I am thankful for Ignatian Spirituality because it gives me language and wisdom to pull from when God feels silent or far away. Keep praying, stay faithful to prayer- even when dry and even when our prayers are not answered. I think God does something within us during faithful waiting!

        Peace,

        Becky

  18. I love your paragraph about the relationship we are invited into — this is so validating of ourselves as strong-in-the-Lord and growing into the image of Christ. Sometimes, we have to “put on the big-girl/-boy pants”, but it shows that we ARE growing up and that He’s trusting us with a challenge. And then, there are also the yes’es!

    • Deborah,

      There are days I do not want to put on my “big girl pants”! Ha ha ha! I want God to give me what I asked for!

      You are right, though, when we do lean in and trust it shows that we are growing into imitating Christ!

      Peace,

      Becky

  19. i prefer to hear “not at this time” rather than “no.” God’s timing and my insistence on NOW can be at variance, so I have to trust that God, if He so chooses, can answer my prayer later. Or it can be HIS way later. I’ve learned to not be so demanding in what I pray for, i.e., help my son find Your Face, rather than make my son stop that specific behavior.

    • I have always believed that God ha three answers to our prayers: 1- Yes; 2- not now;3- I have a better idea!
      Somehow, the notion that an all merciful God would say ,” No” is repugnant to me. However, the idea that he would redirect my efforts and my stewardship of His gifts is not repugnant but highly understandable.
      Best,
      Michael

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