When My Daughter Asked “Why Doesn’t God Answer Our Prayers?”

My 6-year-old daughter Lucy has a series of bumps on her skin that she doesn’t think about during the day, but at night they are painful, and they itch.  The doctor gave us a name for them, something I can’t remember or pronounce.

“Nothing serious. They’ll go away, in time,” the doc said.

When we first noticed the bumps, it was maybe six months ago. Every night, when I tucked her into bed, she requested two things.

“Where’s bunny?” she asked. Her bunny is this ragged looking pastel-colored thing with glass eyes and long ears – it may also be made of the softest substances known to man. Bunny is usually not far away.

Then came the second request:

“Will you pray for my bumps?”

So we prayed.

* * * * *

She was much more patient with God than I normally am. She never so much as raised a question as to why, night after night, we prayed for her bumps and they didn’t go away. Every evening she asked for the same two things: her bunny and a prayer.

Then, a few nights ago, as Maile tried to put some salve on the bumps to keep them from itching, Lucy asked her through the tired tears:

“Mama, why doesn’t God take away the bumps? We pray for them every night.”

* * * * *

Is there any more universally asked question?

Why doesn’t God take away the cancer?

Why doesn’t God stop evil people?

Why doesn’t God answer my prayer?

Why doesn’t God?

* * * * *

My son Cade’s two front teeth were twisted and turned beyond recognition – they were his baby teeth, and they were loose. Like a baby shark, he was growing a second row of the keeper variety in behind the loose ones.

“Dude,” I kept telling him, “I hope you’re working on those teeth. They have to come out. The new ones won’t know where to go.”

Eventually we persuaded him to let Maile give them a small tug (he wouldn’t let me within five feet). He laid down on his back, his head in Maile’s lap. Her fingers pinched one of those loose teeth indiscreetly, like only a mom can. A few tugs, a few complaints, a few more tugs, and out snapped a tooth.

“Ouch!” Cade shouted, sounding offended. Maile held the tooth in her hand, laughing.

* * * * *

I want to help Lucy, even at the age of six, to begin exploring how Cade’s process of losing a tooth helps explain the “Why doesn’t God?” question: it all had to happen – the pain, the fear, the blood – in order to allow something new to grow in that empty place.

But small itchy bumps that will go away and teeth that are supposed to come out seem so far removed from the deep, intense pain that people experience every day.

So how do you approach the question, “Why doesn’t God?”

25 Replies to “When My Daughter Asked “Why Doesn’t God Answer Our Prayers?””

  1. Those are questions I’ve been asking since I was about Lucy’s age. At times, I’ve had answers that comforted me. Other times, I’ve been comfortable living with the mystery. Recently the questions are back in full force (thanks menopause!)

    So I will be checking back here for words of wisdom from your readers …

  2. the most wonderfully freeing answer i have discovered as a mom over 24 years is the phrase…”i don’t know.” i don’t know, coupled with the reminder, the assertion, the experience that god is love, is usually far more comforting than any answer – especially when god is in the question. but i am now dealing with children becoming adults…and willing to admit that i forget what 6 year old pain needs.

  3. This falls in the category of “living in the questions” as there is no pat answer. It goes side by side with other thoughts about “why do bad things happen?” or “why do things go right to begin with?”

    With things like bumps and teeth, I might say that God wants us to work on some things ourselves (with help from doctors, medicine, etc). And sometimes prayer to God provides the support we need to do that.

    In general, I believe that the Bible shows us that miracles don’t just happen at the drop of a hat. Each miracle has a message and purpose for the people who experience it. So perhaps, we need to be more prepared to explain why miracles do happen than why they don’t.

  4. Well, it’s never the answer we want to hear at the time but often I think God chooses not to answer our prayers because He is more concerned with growing us into the person He wants us to be. Unanswered prayers help us to remember our need for Him…which grows our faith. Like Paul and the thorn in the side. Like I said, this answer usually doesn’t suffice though when we might be in the midst of suffering. But in hindsight it makes sense.

  5. Shawn, we’ve got two girls ages 7 and 9 respectively with similar questions. One answer – and it’s a tough one for kids to grasp – is that pain is a gift from God. It’s like a smoke alarm in the house, it tells you when something is wrong. Without that early warning, things would get much worse. Things could progress to the point where they cannot be fixed. The early warning allows God to work through mom, dad and doctors…etc. to get things back to “normal” – and things WILL get back to normal.

    Another useful but tricky response for kids to get, is turning the question from a “why” into a “how” – once things do get back to normal, “how can we see God in this situation?” or “how might this bring us closer as a family?” There is no perfect answer but these attempts help prime kids for the realities of life.

    Lastly, stressing the fact that they’re not alone through the physical pain or painful situation is very comforting – as you obviously know. But reinforcing that you’re with them, as is God every step of the way, even when He can’t be felt can only help. Those words wrapped in a loving hug have helped us deal with our daughters’ pain.

    For what it’s worth….

  6. More and more, I am coming to the understanding and realization that God is not a person in the sky making decisions of who “he’s” going to help and who he’s not. I don’t think God is a person so therefore, the mystery of pain is just that, a mystery. All we can know is that it is a part of life. I don’t think God “answers prayers” in the way we conceptualize it. We even call them prayer requests, as though they are something we write to our congressmen hoping for actual answers in the way we want them. I think this deludes our ability to live with reality and have acceptance. It also deludes our ability to know God if God is taught to us as children to be the magician in the sky who you pray to when things go wrong. This is part of a huge paradigmatic problem in evangelical Christianity if you ask me and I also believe it is changing. So what should we tell our children? I guess not leading them to believe that a prayer is like a request to mom or dad for something but more like when mom or dad holds your hand.

  7. This is a very deep question that can only be answered with the utmost sensitivity. Tell Lucy that God does everything when the time is right. While she waits for his answer, God wants her to have the confidence that he will heal her, he is also taking this opportunity to teach her patience and character. God wants her to know that she shouldn’t be discouraged and His way is always the right way although it may seem that it is taking some time to come into fruition. Read her the story of Joseph….remember he was separated from his family for years and he desired to be reunited with his them. However, God’s plan was to prepare Israel for the famine that was coming, so he used Joseph as an instrument to be in the position of power to help his father’s country. In the end Joseph was reunited with his family. Let her know that timing is everything and God knows when the time is right to act on a prayer. In the meanwhile you can pray that God give Lucy peace so she does not have to worry about the itchiness or pain any longer.

  8. Have to love unanswerable questions. I think I’ve come to see God much like a parent in these situations – someone who loves us, knows what we’re going through, encourages and ministers and teaches us, but does not step in and fix every problem. I really don’t think God manupulates the natural world very often. Ironically, I find that comforting. I don’t question why God gave me a flat tire when I was running late. The flat tire happened for a naturally explainable reason, and I should pray that God grants me patience and joy in spite of it. I know most Christians disagree, but that’s where I’ve been leaning.

  9. Loved all these answers . . . but I think Jason’s thoughts resonate most with me. . . that God is a friend, a companion, a constant source of strength.

    That’s really all I know. I’m with Lucy on this one. Does God answer prayer? Yes. All the time in the way we expect or want? No. Can we change God’s mind? I have no flippin’ idea. . . .

    But I do know God loves us. . . .

    And why is it that itchy bumps are worse at night? I’m with Lucy in this one.

  10. As a mom? I think God created our bodies to work things out while we do what’s necessary to take care of ourselves. Such as scrapes, which we know will heal but we also know to keep them clean until they do. If we are to believe what the doctor says, then we have every reason to believe that God has those bumps covered and it’s just a matter of time.

    As a fellow sister in Christ? This is where the real work of your faith begins! Embrace your questions and be encouraged. There are answers for those not afraid to ask…and keep asking.

  11. “Prayer is like when mom or dad holds your hand.”

    I like that, Jason. At first I wanted to argue with you that God does answer prayers, just not always in our time or the way we think He should. But I like the hand-holding point of view. That’s good.

    God does answer prayers. But I believe He does so according to His plan. When we align ourselves with that plan and with His word, we see our prayers answered. Sometimes he works a miraculous healing divinely. Other times, it’s through a doctor and medicines. The point is to simply leave it up to God as we work to find Earthly solutions at the same time.

    But that’s just this guy’s opinion. Thanks for sharing the story Shawn. And here’s a prayer to help Lucy find comfort while the bumps are still here.

  12. I’ve had eczema since I was a baby so my heart goes out to Lucy. I know what it is to wrestle with itching limbs and head-scratching faith. My parents approached this by asking “what can we learn from this? how will God use this in your life?” Now can I honestly say that eczema has built character and strengthened my relationship with God? I can’t point to specific moments but do I understand what it is to live with a chronic skin condition and does that soften my heart to others with chronic conditions? Most definitely. And has God used that experience and understanding to benefit others? Without a doubt. It’s not what you want to hear when you’re a little girl but it’s a lesson that I have greatly appreciated in adulthood.

  13. i intend to give my daughter popsicles every time she asks me questions like that.

    “what did you say, honey? why do those little african kids not have anything to eat? where do babies come from? did i ever drink beer in high school?
    — oh baylor, you’ve got to try one of these green freezer pops; they’re the best.”

  14. So if he’s doing it in his own time or decides what is best is to not answer prayers is he then answer one’s prayer?

  15. If you want a cheap cop out answer, you could always just tell her, to read the whole book of Job (not just the beginning and the end). Then say that the answer is somewhere in the middle. Though, this is a very daunting task for a six year old.

    Maybe the pat answer of “God is living in the questions” is a good one.

    Sitting shiva is also a great answer (very similar to Jason’s response of mommy or daddy holding your hand).

  16. “It all had to happen – the pain, the fear, the blood – in order to allow something new to grow in that empty place.” – That’s great, man. Unless a grain of wheat dies… :)

    Wonderful line. And tough for children to fathom.

    As a soon-to-be dad, I think about these things too. How do I talk to my daughter about the nature of the world we inhabit? About the singular figure of Jesus in such a pluralistic, relativistic society? About sex and death and why country music sounds so bad… :)

    The more I think about it, the more I think I will tell my daughter, “The people who wrote the Bible, and everyone who has walked this Earth since, have asked those same questions. You just became a little more human by asking that.” :)

    I know I asked God those questions about my OCD before I knew it was OCD. I wanted to be normal. I think that the pain and blood and the removal of my normalcy did allow something greater to grow in its stead. Sometimes those pains are transformative. Sometimes we pray a prayer about the things we think we need, not knowing that God has something far more interesting in mind for us than we can fathom. I like to think that, at least. :)

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