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  • Maggie Wallem Rowe

Remembering Amy: The Paradox of Unanswered Prayer

It was a chance encounter. And then again, maybe not.

Some years back, Mike and I were vacationing in the Smokies not far from the place that we now call home. One night we left our cabin to scout out a restaurant in a nearby town we’d never visited before.

Noticing a large crowd downtown, we discovered a street dance taking place near the county courthouse. A bluegrass band played while adults and kids of all ages followed the directions of a caller. Intrigued, we plopped down on the grass to watch only to have a young couple nearby offer us their lawn chairs.

We exchanged first names, chatting casually while watching the dancing. Tall, slender and dusky blonde, Amy and her husband Billy Joe were local while we lived hundreds of miles north. But when twilight fell over the mountains and our new friends packed up to leave, Amy blurted out, “Hey, I know we just met but would you pray for us? Billy and I have been trying for years to have a baby and there’s nothing the doctors can do. You seem like praying people. Would y’all remember us?”

Touched, we promised we would. Infertility is not only agonizing but all too common. At any one time we’ve known any number of couples hoping for a child just as Amy and Billy were. As we prayed for them in the years ahead we prayed for this young North Carolina couple too.

Did we believe God could give them a child? We sure did. Did we believe he would? That’s where faith falters.

In Scripture we’re told to ask for what we need and also what our hearts desire.[1] It’s our part of the partnership in how God chooses to work in the world. But are we guaranteed an answer?

Some say so. It’s like a spiritual traffic signal they claim. You might get God’s green light, or a red that’s a clear no, or maybe even a yellow indicating “wait.” But the answer will come. When the light of eternity illuminates all our questions, our need for answers will fade away. I believe that, I do.

But sometimes there’s no signal at all God has heard. Months pass, years maybe, and the situation remains unchanged. Is he saying, “Hold on here, the answer’s on its way” or does the silence indicate our petition has been denied?

“The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need.” Matthew 6:7-8 MSG

In the book of Acts, the believers praying fervently for the incarcerated apostle Peter rejoice when God uses miraculous means to free him from prison.[2] Yet in that same passage we learn the apostle James has been executed.

Did God love Peter more than he did James? Did the believers praying for Peter have more faith than those interceding for James?

Scripture is clear that our Creator loves each of us equally to the rest of us. [3] There’s nothing we can do to make him love us more or love us less. And while faith is crucially important in the life of the believer – a sign of our trust in his ultimate will for our lives - prayers are not answered according to some divine formula calculated by the abundance or lack of faith. [4]

If I claim to have the definitive answer to a conundrum that has perplexed God’s people since time began, you might as well toss this book into the trash. If I could tell you something new that speaks with certainty about the paradoxical problems of pain, suffering and unanswered prayer you should brand me a heretic. Because faith is exactly that: faith. The certainty of things not seen.[5] Of answers shrouded in divine mystery that may not be visible this side of eternity.

I’ve lost my mother, father, and some of my closest friends to terminal illnesses. I’ve begged God to vindicate loved ones who were victims of false accusations only to have the situations drag on for years. At times I’ve felt like the Psalmist who lamented, “Why, LORD, do you reject me and hide your face from me?” [6]

But still I pray. Because I must. Because God’s Word tells me to. Because along with the anguish of loss I’ve also experienced the wild joy of God’s glorious YES.

After Mike, Mom and I relocated to the Smokies the summer before last, we discovered residents of our new hometown are still square-dancing in the streets on summer nights.

On the last night of the season, as the shadow of Cold Mountain lengthened over the dancers, I spotted a tall young woman with hair like ripened wheat. Amy. Though years had passed, her face had never left my mind even as her quiet petition had never left my prayers.

The crowd was dispersing but I pushed my way through hoping to speak with her. I wanted her to know these strangers had not forgotten her request.

Then she turned, stooped, and opened her arms wide to scoop up a tiny tow-headed boy toddling towards her, his face wreathed in smiles, hers in welcome.

I had my answer. And I went home dancing.

Copyright 2020, Maggie Wallem Rowe. Adapted from forthcoming book This Life We Share: 52 Reflections on Journeying Well with God and Others (NavPress, May release.)


[1]Matthew 7:7-8; Psalm 37:4

[2] Acts 12:1-11

[3] Jeremiah 31:3; John 3:16; Romans 5:8

[4] Psalm 91:15; Luke 11:9; John 15:7

[5] Hebrews 11:1; Romans 1:17

[6] Psalm 88:14 NIV



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