Me and God and a word called No.

There is a book I recommend to every father: The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker. It is a fascinating read with many takeaways – the most important of which is a list of warning signs we can look for when we find ourselves confronted with odd or potentially dangerous behavior from another. One of the warning signs of criminal behavior is a person’s inability to accept “No” for an answer. No is a valid response. In a dating situation or when a stranger offers unwanted help, the normal person will back off when told no. But a deviant mind seeks ways around the word and will not accept it.

No is a valid response to a question. We teach our children that truth and even when difficult, we have learned to accept it ourselves.

No is also a valid response to a prayer.

The Bible teaches three answers to prayer: Yes, No, and Wait.

Yes is easy. When we pray and receive what we desire there comes a satisfying confirmation of the love of our heavenly father.

No and Wait can be very hard but are valid answers nonetheless.

I believe that God always answers every prayer. My finite mind cannot grasp the logistics involved in this system, but the Bible teaches it and I accept it. While he answers prayer, he often does not always offer an explanation. Nor does he need to. He is God.

When a father tells his child no, he usually follows with an explanation for his decision: “No, you can’t eat that cricket because it will spoil your dinner.”

The child may or may not be satisfied, but God is not bound by our need of a reason. In the height of human arrogance, we demand all yes’s or a reasonable explanation for the wounding no’s. But he is God. He didn’t promise that and doesn’t owe it to us. If we expect yes to every prayer, we are immature fools who serves a genie in a bottle, not God. No’s test our faith – especially when it comes in a desperate situation and without a trace as to why.

C.S. Lewis said, “For prayer is request. The essence of request, as distinct from compulsion, is that it may or may not be granted.”

On Friday, February 13, 2015, I woke up early and went down to my basement. I got down on my knees and that didn’t feel like enough so I got down on my face and cried out, “God, heal my baby.” With my daughter’s life ebbing away in the room above me, I had faith. I truly believed with everything in my heart that even then, God would raise her up cancer-free and it would be a miracle. And she would walk out of that room and be a living testimony of His power and his mercy to this dying world.

Twelve hours later, I watched her take her last breath. I carried her lifeless body out of my house. To all of my prayers and the thousands prayed for her by others, God said no. I will never know why. I can speculate, but I cannot know. My inability to know that answer doesn’t make him any less God. Further, it doesn’t mean he didn’t answer my prayer – he just didn’t give me the answer I wanted.

It would require very little courage or faith to follow a formulaic God doling out fortune cookies with complete instructions and positive affirmation. But God is not an if/then proposition. He never said, “If you pray, I will grant.”

When I asked, God said no which leaves me two choices:

I can walk away from my faith or I can learn to live with this God who says no.

Either way, God is still God. He hasn’t changed. Have I? Has my faith?


Faith is not built by the proliferation of yes’s we accumulate. Rather, faith is molded in the fiery ashes of the painful no’s we’ve received.


I choose to stay. Some might call that foolish, but it is my choice and mine alone. It is a daily slog through the valley of why, but I still believe. I still believe. While I do not understand his will and in this case, I do not like it, I acknowledge that he is God and I am not. He owes me no explanation.

But… God and me – our relationship is different now. I tend to feel him less and see evidence of him more and in complete candor, we sometimes aren’t on speaking terms. That might make sense to no one, but it’s where I am. It’s where we are. Regardless of how I feel… he is God and I am me and that’s enough.

Me and God – we’re working through this together.

A View from the Back

I’ve always felt like if you are going to do something, you should go all-in. Not only should you commit to the fullest, you should urge others to jump into the pool, too. I never understood people sitting on the sidelines watching others pull the load.

If your kid is playing ball, you should be coaching.

If you believe in the issue, lead the charge.

If you’re a member, actively participate.

Everyone should be all-in. Lead, follow, or get out of the way. Be 100% committed. These have been my mantras and I don’t think they are inherently wrong or bad. What is wrong is the judgment and lack of sympathy for others who aren’t in accord. This epiphany came to me during an innocuous conversation last week.

I was asked to sit on a panel at Emory University to speak to young people who hope to go into medicine. The topic was patient experience – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Having experienced each of those during our cancer treatment, I was able to elucidate all three positions. One of my fellow speakers was a cancer mom I have met digitally, but never in person, although I have interviewed her daughter via FaceTime.

Before the event started, we were in the midst of a good conversation regarding church and faith when she asked where we went to church. A legitimate question… but it has a trick answer. For the first time in our married lives, we don’t have a church home. Right now, church doesn’t feel right. The two congregations that loved us through Kylie’s sickness and death both worship in sanctuaries that contain stages on which she performed numerous times. To sit through a service at either place is to see her singing, acting, and dancing. We tried for a while and never heard a sermon… we just heard her.

We do go to church – sometimes “homechurch”, but frequently a large church where the sermons are deep and thought-provoking. It’s a place where there are plenty of opportunities to serve, but also contains a huge, packed sanctuary where people can sit in the back and get lost in the masses. I explained that we had always been active leaders who taught and served, but right now we need to blend in the back.

“This should be a lesson to us that everyone at church can be at a different place in their life and have different needs,” my new friend wisely said.

I’m a dense sort. I smiled, agreed, and went on until later in the day when I was alone, something started gnawing at me. That epiphany jumped up and bit me.

You see, for all of those years, not only have I been on my church’s front row, I’ve looked down on the people in the back row – the 80% not pulling their weight. Oh, I never confronted anyone, but I certainly considered them inactive leaches while we pious 20% did the heavy lifting. And now, from my new seat, I realize that while I sat in judgment, there are plenty of legitimate life situations that plant people in the back row. I probably looked down on many helpless and hurting people. Rather than condemn them, I should have been more loving and celebrated the fact that they had the strength to make it through the door.

And this doesn’t just pertain to church. Maybe a bunch of those dads who wouldn’t coach soccer with me or build theater sets felt lost, inadequate, or had issues I couldn’t have dreamed of.

 Wow! This self-discovery stuff is great until you discover you are the one with the problem.




A Pharisee, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22: 35-40 (NIV)