The following post is written by my bro, Joey Dodson.
I grabbed my book and stepped onto my balcony to get a dose of the summer sun. After ten minutes of the heat, I was starting to bake. So, I wiped the sweat from my brow and decided to retreat to the air conditioning. When I got to the balcony door, however, I discovered that it was locked. It turns out my five year old thought it would be hilarious “to shut daddy out.”
To be sure, it would have been a cute preschool prank: had he not forgotten about it! When he got tired of waiting for me, rather than unlocking the door, he went downstairs and gave it no more thought. I tapped on the glass and called out for someone to let me in. Nothing. I hollered out louder and banged my fists against the pane. Crickets.
Meanwhile, as I was melting into the slats of my balcony, my wife and children were all downstairs—business as usual. My youngest nestled in the lap of my wife as he listened to her read a Peppa Pig story. My teenage son pounded out “Russian Soldier” on the piano, and my teenage daughter journaled as she hummed along with Lauren Daigle blaring from her earpods. My other two boys were lost in a virtual Minecraft world. All of them were oblivious to the hammering blows and suffering pleas of their increasingly dehydrated father. Fortunately, after an hour or so, a neighbor kid heard my hopeless sobs and alerted my family that I was wasting away upstairs. Boy, did I feel loved.
I admit, though, that I am not the best at waiting patiently. In fact, to me waiting patiently sounds like a paradox or an oxymoron. I get irritable when I have to hold up. This is no less the case (and probably even more so) when it is God that I am waiting on. Seeing this as one of my countless character flaws, my mentor Dr. Rodney Woo used to ask me: “Do you know what’s worse than patiently waiting on the Lord?” He’d then pause and smirk and finally blurt: “Wishing that you would have.” I knew Woo was right, but I had another answer to his question. Do you know what’s worse than waiting on the Lord? Not feeling his presence while you wait.
I grew up with the story of Elijah—“a man just like us”—whose prayers the Lord instantly answered with a blaze from heaven. However, more often than not when I pray God seems so slow in responding that I relate more to the prophets of Baal whom Elijah heckled when their imprecations went unanswered. Shout louder! Pray harder! Surely he is a god! Maybe he’s busy? Maybe he’s asleep? Maybe he’s in his bathroom sitting on his “throne”? (1 Kings 18:29). In response to these haunting taunts in my head, I pray harder and with more fervor. Nevertheless, as it was with those exhausted prophets’ intercessions, so also I feel like my prayers are fireproof. It seems with my prayers as well: “there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention (1 Kings 18:29).”
It’d be one thing if God were slow to answer my trivial prayers: like for my Razorbacks to finally beat Alabama in football. (“How long oh Lord?!”) But I’m not talking about those. I’m talking about the broken groans that rise up from deep within, those you mutter all night into your tear-soaked, crusted pillow. You know, the “Father please don’t let him die” kind of prayer, or the “Bring back my wayward teenager” petition, or the “Oh God, please not cancer” plea. You call, you knock, you bang, you beg. But nothing.
While waiting for the Lord to answer these prayers is hard, waiting for him when he is silent is almost unbearable. What happened to that so-called peace that surpasses understanding? His still small voice to comfort me in the pain?
God’s apparent despondency causes me to question the power of prayer, the promise of his presence, and even to doubt his goodness. I have a friend going through this right now. It is an excruciating season the St. John of the Cross coined “the dark night of the soul.” My friend confessed to me that when our church sings: “You’re a good, good Father,” he cannot even bring himself to vocalize those words. In response, I told him that it’s okay, for now I would sing it on his behalf with the expectation that he will have to do so for me one day. During these dark nights when God is silent and his peace is estranged, it is having the people of God around you that helps you make it to the dawn. The cooled embers of my confidence flicker when I am with those whom—even if the Lord did not answer their prayers—he did eventually answer them. I too can testify that God has always, finally answered me.
However, I cannot always say the same thing about me. I complain when I call upon the Lord and he does not answer, but I wonder how many times he calls upon me without a reply. At least when Adam was clothed with only foliage and shame, he still came out of the bushes to answer God’s summons. In contrast, I fear the Lord often asks me the questions he asked Israel: “Why was no one there when I came? Why did no one answer when I called (Isaiah 50:2)?” How many times has Christ stood at my door locked out, urging me to come and let him back in? How is it that I can be so frustrated with him not answering my prayers on my timetable, when I do not even consider his?
I am thankful that he waits patiently upon me even when I so impatiently wait upon him.