When Your Prayers Go Unanswered

Discovering God’s goodness in my journey through infertility

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Have you ever wanted something so bad that it hurts? Your thoughts are consumed with dreams, plans, or prayers to make it happen . . . but you have no control over the outcome. So how do you handle the heartbreak when your hopes are shattered instead of fulfilled?

A few years ago, I wrote an article titled “Dealing with Disappointment” about my struggle with infertility. Even after God gave us Connor through in-vitro fertilization, my longings continued for a second child. Bob and I pushed forward through many more rounds of fertility treatments, and I had a second pregnancy that ended in a miscarriage . . . but we never had another child. I was devastated.

But here I am years later, and my heart is in a different place. One moment radically changed my interpretation of these events (and my entire relationship with God), so here's the rest of the story . . .

I spent many years wanting and waiting, begging God to grant me another child. I struggled to understand why God would not give me children, but He would give children to families who would neglect or abuse them, or grant unwed teenagers babies they would abort. Didn’t He know that I would cherish any child He gave me? I grappled with this “unfair” allotment of offspring. Why would a God who “supposedly” loved me so much deny me children? Not only did it seem unjust, it felt cruel.

For years people would haggle me about when I was going to have another child . . . if they only knew how much I wanted another baby. Others who learned of my struggle would ask me if I had thought about adoption, but this question just triggered my heartache . . . because I still longed for my own children. Some people suggested I needed to repent and then I would have children . . . others suggested I needed to “stop trying” and then it would happen . . . and one friend told me I needed to stop drinking Diet Coke because that was the problem. I know people were trying to be helpful, so I don’t fault any of them for their efforts (especially since I have made many of the same mistakes with others). I honestly think my infertility made others uncomfortable, and since they could not fix my problem, they felt that offering advice was the next best thing. But in reality, the people who actually helped me the most during this season were not the ones who tried to solve my problem, they were the ones who sat and cried with me, the ones who just said, “I am so sorry . . . and I am here.”  

I shed countless tears throughout these years while petitioning the Lord for another child. I had dreams about positive pregnancy tests, and about me nursing my newborn in the hospital, so I fully expected it was just a matter of time before it happened. In the end, things did not turn out as I hoped, and I could not understand why my prayers were not answered.

I believe there are certain gifts in life that we may not receive unless we ask for them and believe God for them while we wait. So I persisted in prayer, trying to muster up more faith to get what I wanted. But this waiting phase can be the most dangerous time. I was already distorting my faith into works by trying to force belief for a miracle, but instead of growing my faith; my prayers just amplified a pretense of it. I did not also want to turn to idolatry in the process (like Abraham and Sarah did with Ishmael). But it took years before I realized God cared more about the motives of my heart than how much I “worked at” believing (James 4:2-3) . . . and even the little faith I did have was a gift from Him! Maybe the best prayer I could say was simply, “I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

The truth is, we have a living hope in Christ, which is completely different from wishful thinking. In the end, our faith does not mature from trying harder, but from resting more . . . and in order to do this, we have to shift our focus from the promise to the promise-keeper.

Real faith isn’t grounded in our hopes and dreams – it emerges when we learn to relinquish control. Authentic faith is resigned faith, one where we can press into God with prayer and hopeful expectation, while trusting the outcome to Him. It is all in the surrender. 

Pastor Carlos Rodriguez put it well when he said, “You can’t trust God and play God at the same time – you have to choose.” 

So, I tried my best to live with a “resigned” faith . . . but the question still haunted me; if children are a gift from God, why didn’t God give ME that good gift? It certainly was not for lack of asking.  

Bob and I waited almost two years after Connor was born before we did more fertility treatments. We needed to know it was God’s plan (not ours) before we invested in the treatments again. It took time, but eventually we came to a place of agreement, and we had a peace about moving forward. So why didn’t the treatments work? Why would God have led us forward, to endure the financial and emotional burden of these treatments, if it was only going to lead to more loss? Did we hear wrong?

In light of my circumstances, I began to question whether I really believed God was always good. I used to feel certain about God’s unfailing love, but I began to wonder if I every really knew Him at all.

In his book, “God is good,” Bill Johnson wrote, “True faith precedes understanding on eternal matters . . . but my faith can go only where I have understanding of His goodness.” I wrestled with these concepts for a while, but ultimately concluded that if I turn away from God when times are tough, then I must not really believe God loves me . . . and deep down I knew this to be true. God sent His only son to die for all of us, while we were still sinners - did I really need more proof of His love (Romans 5:8)?

Though I did not understand the “why” behind my situation, there was no way to separate God’s infinite and perfect love from His goodness. 

So maybe God was not the problem.

Had I allowed my pain and disappointment to breach my connection to my heavenly Father? I felt like a spiritual weakling as I floundered my way to Him in the darkness, assuming my questions were impeding my faith along the way. But in retrospect, I realize every bit of my grappling was holy (Psalm 42:7) . . . I discovered that my quest for understanding and my faith journey were actually intertwined. Proverbs 25:2 reads, “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.” I am learning that God does not hide things from us, He hides things for us, and He promises that if we seek Him with all our heart, we will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13).  

Soren Kierkegaard once observed that life is lived forward, but only understood backward.  I learned that God was never afraid of my questions, and asking them did not re-enforce my doubt . . . though ignoring them could.   As Shawn Bolz wrote, “God loves it when we ask big questions . . . because He can’t wait to give you the answers through more relationship with Himself” (Proverbs 2:1-5).  But the experience of suffering is not an intellectual exercise - the key is seeking Him with our heart as we wrestle through the questions.  As we submit our thoughts to God and open our spirit to His voice, the answers often come in the form of a heart understanding, not a mental one.

I came to the conclusion that God always deserved my worship, even if He did not answer my prayers the way I wanted Him to, and I resolved to believe that God is always good, even when I cannot comprehend His ways (Isaiah 55:9, Job 13:15, Psalms 27:13-14). Instead of believing God had rejected me, or becoming bitter towards Him in my pain, I chose to bathe my heart with gratitude as I continued my quest for understanding. I remained perplexed, but without despair (2 Corinthians 4:8). I still longed for another child, but I made a decision that God was enough for me, and I trusted He would eventually help my heart catch up with this resolve. I simply aligned my will with Habakkuk 3:17-18,

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the field yield no good food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

But a few months later, during my quiet time, I revisited this issue with God. Once again I asked Him, “If children are a gift from You, why won’t you give me your good gift?” This time, I heard a response . . . one that changed me forever. From deep within, a tender voice replied,

“But Carey, I gave you a better gift, I gave you Myself.”

Tears immediately started streaming down my face as these words pierced my spirit and His love consumed me right there on my couch. Suddenly His methods made sense - I realized His withholding was not cruel at all, but rather an intentional ploy to test my idols, so that He could give me something better. How else would I learn that He alone is my portion and true source of all joy (Psalm 73:25-26)?

But then I will win her back once again. I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her there. I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope. She will give herself to me there, as she did long ago when she was young, when I freed her from her captivity in Egypt. When that day comes, says the Lord, you will call me ‘my husband’ instead of ‘my master.' (Hosea 2:14-16 NLT).

My heavenly Father wanted to transform my theology of His love into an experience, so He pursued me, even at the risk of being misunderstood. He wooed me into His chambers through the wilderness, where He spoke tenderly to me, and invited me into the best love story of all. Here, He revealed Himself to me as my husband, not just my master . . . and I first tasted the bliss of true intimacy with my Abba.

I have learned that when God answers my prayers with a “no” or "not yet," there is always a bigger “yes” hiding in the margins. God is waiting to redeem every dark place in our lives . . . if we will only let Him.

In "Life of the Beloved," Henri Nouwen writes that we should put our brokenness "away from the shadow of the curse and put it under the light of blessing."

Physical, mental, or emotional pain lived under the blessing is experienced in ways radically different from physical, mental, or emotional pain lived under the curse. What seemed intolerable becomes a challenge.  What seemed a reason for depression becomes a source of purification.  What seemed punishment becomes a gentle pruning.  What seemed rejection becomes a way to a deeper communion.  Here joy and sorrow are no longer each other's opposites, but have become two sides of the same desire to grow to the fullness of the Beloved.

Nouwen explains, "The first step toward healing is not a step away from the pain, but a step toward it." Once we put our brokenness under the blessing of God, we can safely befriend our pain, and eventually our brokenness can become "a gateway to joy."  

I now see my infertility as a gift, for through it God separated me from my other loves, so I could encounter my true first love. In my barrenness, I discovered God as the giver of good gifts (Isaiah 54:1), and now, when I say that God is good, I don’t speak in shallow “church-ease;” I can shout with full assurance that He is actually good TO ME.  

So for those of you wrestling with grief or disappointment, or who feel like God is silent, I leave you with this question from pastor Carlos Rodriguez, “What if what is surrounding you right now is not the darkness of the grave, but the darkness of the womb?

 The blessing of heaven comes upon those who never lose faith in me no matter what happens (Luke 7:23 TPT).

May the blessing of heaven come upon each of you. 

Recommended Reading:

Article: "How Long Have You Been Waiting?" The Gift of Unanswered Prayer by Ann Swindell

Book: “Every Bitter Thing is Sweet” by Sara Hagerty

Book: “God is Good” by Bill Johnson

Recommended Listening:

Francis Chan explains "What should we do about unanswered prayer?"

"Take Courage" by Kristene DiMarco - "Take courage my heart.  Stay steadfast my soul.  He's in the waiting. He's in the waiting.  Hold on to your hope as your triumph unfolds.  He's never failing. He's never failing." 

“Those who wait on the Lord” by Bethany Dillon - “You could do more in my waiting than in my doing I could do.”


Carey McNamara

I am a wife to Bob, a mom to Connor, and a physician assistant who is passionate about beating heart disease. As a devoted lover of Jesus, I am on an unending quest for more truth, love, and wholeness through Him. I have come to a place in my life where I realize God is not afraid of my questions, and I have learned the joy of pursuing Him until I discover His heart. As a result, I created a blog to encourage others in their own journey towards Life, Liberty, and Love in Christ. I am passionate about doing life authentically in community, and am thrilled to share a bit of that with you here.

*Please comment respectfully. I welcome honesty as you share your thoughts and feelings. However, since many of these subjects are controversial, I ask that you take care to honor others in the process. I reserve the right to delete any inappropriate comments.