God is a merciful God.

I think we sometimes forget that when we get wrapped up in the pain we’re experiencing, the people we’ve lost, and the things we don’t yet have. We focus our attention on the ways that God hasn’t measured up to our human standards and we find ourselves disappointed.

We see what He hasn’t done for us instead of the many blessings we’ve been given.

And sadly, that’s natural sometimes. That’s human. But it doesn’t mean that we’re right. It doesn’t mean that God has abandoned us or that He isn’t true to His promises.

It just means that what He wants for us is in His time. Not ours.

It’s so common to pray in our hard moments, to lean on God when things are spinning out of control and ask for some kind of guidance, some sense of direction, some idea of what to do or what path to head down.

I know in my toughest times I’ve reached out to God, hoping for a clear answer. I’ve prayed, looking specifically for my prayers to be granted rather than for Him to mold my life to His will.

I’ve asked Him to please bring people back to my life, to heal the suffering of someone I love, or to allow something great to happen to me. It becomes almost a test. I rationalize with Him, saying that if He will grant my prayer, then I will promise to have a stronger faith or promise to always do the right thing. I make wagers with God sometimes—but that’s not how this works.

Prayer is the outward action of my faith, yet I sometimes don’t have faith when I pray. I have expectations.

Sometimes I’ve prayed so hard for something and felt utterly defeated when I didn’t get what I wanted. But weeks, months, years later I see that if I would have been given that thing I wanted, I would have lost out on something even bigger and better. Something I didn’t even know I needed.

Because God has bigger plans.

I’ve prayed for love to come into my life at a certain time, but if God would have given me love, I wouldn’t have become stronger and more independent. If things would have fallen into place at the college I prayed for, I wouldn’t have attended the school that shaped so many of my future friendships and dreams.

God listens to every prayer. He hears every word that we whisper from our lips; He knows our thoughts and even our hearts. And He listens. But just because He isn’t granting our prayers in the way we want Him to doesn’t mean He doesn’t love us.

Here’s the thing: I don’t have an explanation for why things are imperfect or why we can’t always have a pain-free life. I don’t know why God doesn’t give us things we want right away or why He doesn’t always take the suffering away from the ones we love. But what I do know is that we are sinful people, yet He loves us. And He wants us to really have faith in Him, to lean on Him when times are good and bad. Maybe that’s why hard things happen to us—so that we grow in faith.

God loves us so deeply. Even when He doesn’t answer our prayers.

He has a bigger purpose and over-arching will for our lives that doesn’t always line up with what we want. But He knows better. He knows not only the biggest hopes in our hearts, but what’s to come in our lives and how it will bless us, strengthen us.

And sometimes He doesn’t answer our prayers in the way we want Him to because He’s sheltering us from pain.

Sometimes it looks like He doesn’t love us, when really He’s granting us the biggest gift. A gift that we won’t realize the weight of until much time has passed and we’re already bitter at Him for supposedly abandoning us in our time of need.

Trust me, I get it. I know how hard it can be when you hope and pray and wish for something to change in your life, for something to fall into place, for things to just make sense and it doesn’t. I know the ache of not getting what you feel you desperately need.

But know this: Maybe your unanswered prayer is God giving you something better than you ever imagined.

You just have to have faith in Him, in His promises.

“The Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.”

—Deuteronomy 31:6

That is His promise—to stand by us, in pain and in peace. He’s not going anywhere. So please trust Him, even when it feels like your prayers are floating into nothingness, even when it feels like He’s not listening.

He is.

He just knows what we need.
And He will show us in time.