As I was writing on unanswered prayer, my wife recommended that I interview some senior citizens about prayer. “Most of them pray, and they’ve been at it a long time,” she said, “Surely they’ll have some wisdom for you.”
She was right. I accompanied her to the retirement center where she assists as a chaplain, and I heard one miracle story after another. One woman had felt a sudden urge to leave a card game and go home. As she walked in the door she saw that a candle had burned to the nub, igniting a bouquet of plastic roses–a fire she was able to smother with a pillow just in time. Another told of remarkable survival stories from World War II. Another told of her husband choking on a homemade cinnamon roll, just as two paramedics walked past who saved his life by performing the Heimlich maneuver.
I heard, too, of prayers for world peace and against injustice. One African-American senior reminisced about praying while growing up as a second-class citizen in the South. Who could imagine then the changes she would live through?
Although I probed for accounts of unanswered prayers, most of the seniors preferred to talk about answered prayers. All could tell of family tragedies and health breakdowns, but somehow these events did not shake their faith in prayer.
After our meeting, however, I wandered through a portion of the facility that cares for seniors who need more assistance. They lay in beds or sat in wheelchairs. I tried talking to these seniors too, but the lights in their minds had gone out. Any secrets they had learned about prayer lay hidden beyond retrieval.
I drove away from the facility more convince than ever that the only final solution to unanswered prayer is Paul’s explanation to the Corinthians: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” No human being, no matter how wise or how spiritual, can interpret the ways of God, explain why one miracle and not another, why an apparent intervention here and not there. Along with the apostle Paul, we can only wait, and trust.