Dack Van Orden was born and raised in Idaho Falls, ID. He currently lives in the Houston Texas area where he and his wife are the parents of three daughters and one bonus daughter. He has served in a variety of callings within the Church, most of which have been in various youth callings. His favorite was teaching early morning Seminary. He currently serves as a counselor in his ward bishopric.

Enter Dack…

In a song by Garth Brooks he opens by singing:

“Just the other night at a hometown football game my wife and I ran into my old high school flame

And as I introduced them the past came back to me and I couldn’t help but think of the way things used to be

She was the one that I’d wanted for all times and each night I’d spend prayin’ that God would make her mine

And if he’d only grant me this wish I wished back then I’d never ask for anything again

She wasn’t quite the angel that I remembered in my dreams And I could tell that time had changed me In her eyes too it seemed

We tried to talk about the old days there wasn’t much we could recall I guess the Lord knows what he’s doin’ after all

And as she walked away and I looked at my wife and then and there I thanked the good Lord For the gifts in my life

Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers.”

With that backdrop, I would like to expand upon insights for when our prayers seem to go unanswered. I understand that this can be a very personal topic and that it can frankly be very discouraging. But I do intend to be very open and vulnerable with my thoughts today. Some of these feelings are very tender in my own personal faith journey. I understand that others may feel very differently and have their own views and experiences that make you feel differently regarding prayers and our communication with our Heavenly Father. Others may be experiencing their own faith crisis and may not feel like God is in their life at all.

I am praying that the Spirit will be a guide not only through my words, but also your thoughts and feelings as well. I don’t wish to deepen any wounds or be offensive in any way, but I also do intend to be direct and open with some of my personal experiences of feeling like God is not answering my heartfelt and sincere prayers.

Angry at God? I have sat in several Sunday School classes and read several Church articles where I have heard anecdotes such as, “God does answer all our prayers, the answer just might be no.”

Hearing this has actually made me angry at times.

I understand that we do receive the answer no at times, but sometimes these comments felt like someone trying to pacify me without giving me the real reason why I feel ignored or disregarded by God. I also want to be clear that I am not talking about the prayers of a 17-year-old boy and his old high school girlfriends. I am speaking of times in our lives where we are brought to our knees in anguish and pain. I speak of those moments where we feel our hearts are literally being ripped in two or the fear of what we are facing is paralyzing.

Crushing Moments

Each of us will face these crushing moments of losing a job and not knowing how we will afford to feed our family or keep them in a home. They come as we face the news of a serious health concern for ourselves or someone we love. I have had several friends and family lose a child or a spouse. It is debilitating. You don’t want to move or talk to anyone. There are days where you cry yourself dry. You know what I mean, you cry so much that no more tears come out, but you keep crying and feeling the pain. Perhaps you are struggling with a doctrinal question that has shaken your faith to its core and you are desperately trying to get an answer to your questions.

It is in these moments that we often turn to our Heavenly Father and plead for some sort of relief. But when that plea seems to go unanswered or even ignored, that can often be the final straw.

I don’t think we are alone in these feelings of frustration and even anger at God. In the scriptures, I have found five different occasions where a prophet has been at his breaking point and called out, “Oh God, where art thou? How long do I have to suffer these afflictions?” This was said by big-hitter prophets: David, Job, Alma, Joseph Smith, Isaiah—all in their breaking points and feeling like their prayers were not being answered.

Not all unanswered prayers are tied to our trials and hard times. Have you ever wanted something so badly you would do just about anything for it? Perhaps it was a school or college you were trying to attend. I don’t know of anyone that wanted to be a mom more than my wife, Babbi. She prayed and prayed for a baby early in our marriage, but her prayers seemed to go unheard. It can be particularly painful to not receive answers when the things you are praying for are good and righteous desires of your heart.

Principle One – Stone for Bread

I’d like to share with you a few of my personal experiences and thoughts on how we might be able to address these moments when the heavens feel shut. Most of my thoughts are coming from an address from S. Michael Wilcox at BYU education week in 2005.

The first principle is found in Luke 11. Stone for bread:

”And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?”

I think the principle the Savior is trying to teach here is that His Father, our Heavenly Father, doesn’t give harmful things.

If you asked for an egg and I gave you a scorpion, that would not be a good thing, in fact it could be a very dangerous thing. So I think the Savior is saying, just like it’s not in my nature as a loving Father to give harmful things unto my children, neither will our Heavenly Father.

But sometimes when we pray and ask for bread or an egg, we may not like the type of eggs or bread we may receive. Maybe I don’t want a fried egg, I want scrambled eggs. I don’t want rye bread, I want nice white bread. So sometimes what we want may not align with what we need.

I wish I could say that I was that in tune with the Spirit that I could say that my wants and my needs are the same, but in reality they are not. A quick story to illustrate.

Prayers of Negotiation

When the time came for me to go on my mission and fill out my paperwork, I was a little hesitant. I felt I should go on my mission, and I knew it was the right thing to do, but I was extremely nervous about where I would go. And if I am honest, I really wasn’t (in my mind) the kind of young man that should serve a mission.

A lot of my friends had received exciting calls to places all over the world. But I didn’t want to go somewhere exciting with new and strange foods. And as a boy growing up in Idaho, the LAST place I wanted to go was somewhere cold.

So, in my mission preparation I began to negotiate and strike up a deal with the Lord. I began to say, “Lord, as you know I am not the most spiritual guy, I think we’re both a little surprised that this is happening, I think we both agree that I’m an overachiever here, so I would like to make you a deal. I will continue to go on this mission, so long as you agree to send me some place normal (preferably stateside) and some place warm. I’m thinking maybe Southern California.”

I felt very confident that I had brokered an amazing deal for myself and the Lord. He would get a missionary He hadn’t planned on getting, and I would get to go some place normal and warm. The day of my call came and as I opened the letter fully expecting to see my wishes come true, I read the words, you are hereby called to serve in the Canada Toronto mission. COLD and foreign! And for those of you saying Canada is not foreign, you’ve never lived in Canada.

I went on to serve a wonderful mission in Toronto. It was still cold; I knocked on doors in 50-below-zero temps. It was very cold. It was foreign, even though it’s just to the north of us; there’s still some differences. And Toronto is a melting pot of several cultures and countries. Now could I have turned that moment into stone? Could I have been frustrated and maybe even resentful, could I have spent my whole time there thinking about where I wanted to go vs where I was sent?

I could have changed those Toronto eggs into scorpions, that Canadian bread into stone. In moments like this, we should try to remember that God doesn’t give serpents or stones, what He gives is bread, and eggs. And even those things that appear on the surface to be contrary to what we were asking for, He can make them good.

The Poor Part of the Vineyard

In Jacob 5, in the parable of the olive tree, we see the Lord purposefully planted some trees in what was considered a poor part of the vineyard. It doesn’t say why it was considered a poor spot in the vineyard, only that it was not where the other workers felt these trees should have been planted. Perhaps it didn’t get the proper sunlight or water throughout the day.

So often it can feel as though we are getting the raw end of the deal, or unfairly dealing with things that others have no idea about. But the Lord is very aware that our current circumstances, our upbringing, our life experiences; that we have had to face a perhaps unfair situations or have gone completely contrary to all our plans and hopes and dreams. But He says, “Counsel me not. I knew it was a poor spot of ground.”

“I know these things that have happened or are happening to you are hard, wrong, or unfair; I’ve planted you in a rougher spot in the garden than I did with others. I know it. But I’ve nourished it this long time. I am aware of you.” And if you will respond to that nourishment of the Lord, you will grow and flourish. You will bring forth all the fruits of character and development you need. Trust that He is a loving Heavenly Father, and that He will not give you stone for bread.

Principle Two – The Fourth Watch

In Mark 6:47-48 we find Jesus has just finished feeding the 5000 and retired to a mountain to pray. He sent his disciples on before him to the ship to cross the sea without him.

“And when even was come, the ship was in the midst of the sea, and he alone on the land. And he saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them.”

Let’s stop here for just a moment. Many of us find ourselves in this situation. We are out on the sea and the waves are beating us down and the winds are contrary to us. This past fall we were in San Diego at a beach. Alyssa and Sariah were with me playing at the beach and I was trying to do some body surfing. I wanted to be in an area where there were no other surfers. First of all to protect my pride of not knowing what I was doing, and secondly to stay out of their way.

I had foolishly gone out into the waters where there was, unknowingly, a riptide surf. To up the ante, I found myself in a very dangerous situation where the waves were crashing down on me and beneath me were submerged rocks. As my two youngest girls were watching on the beach, I suddenly envisioned in my mind a giant wave picking me up and crashing me onto the rocks. I had a deep sense that I could not let my daughters see me injured or potentially paralyzed by slamming into those rocks.

I began to swim to shore and safety. After about 15 minutes of swimming, I realized I had not moved an inch. The riptide was keeping me from progressing. I began to swim as hard and fast as I could. After what seemed like forever, I finally made it back to shore safely. I was completely fatigued and exhausted. I had nothing left in me.

I think of the disciples absolutely exhausted, hands sore and blistered from rowing and fighting the sea all night. They were frightened, and the Savior did not come to them. In our moments of spiritual, physical, or emotional exhaustion, we may ask, “Why has He not come?”

And then the next sentence says,

“And about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea.”

It’s important at this point to understand that the Hebrew night is divided into four watches. The first watch is from 6 to 9pm. The second watch is from 9pm to 12am The third watch is 12 to 3am, then the fourth watch was 3 to 6am, in the morning.

If you have physical scriptures or use the tools app, I would suggest highlighting the phrase, “about the forth watch of the night he cometh unto them.”

God’s Wisdom

We worship a forth-watch God. One who tends to come to us in the fourth watch. One who tends to wait until the last possible moment to come to us. We see this repeatedly in the scriptures.

Joseph Smith doesn’t see the pillar of light until “just at the moment I was about to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction.” Then comes the pillar of light.

Elijah comes to the widow as she’s preparing the last meal for her and her son. She was at the moment of making a small cake and then they were literally going to lay down and die.

In his wisdom, God sees that at times it is good for us to be pressed to our absolute breaking point before He comes to us.

Now, if you’re like me, this is a problem because I am a first-watch person. When the storms come and I need a blessing or reprieve, I want it in the first watch. I see a need and want it fulfilled in those first few hours. But this doesn’t happen, so I will often tell myself, that I can make it to the second watch, because it is good for my character and growth.

And when He doesn’t come in the second watch and it gets to the third watch, I begin to make some very dangerous assumptions. I begin to say, “He’s not listening. He doesn’t care. I am not worthy. And that’s why the answers aren’t coming.”

Can I suggest that when we get in these moments we pause, take a breath, and remember the Lord is listening and does care?

In Mark’s account He was watching them from afar. He did care for the disciples’ safety, and for all intents and purposes they were safe—and I am also worthy of that answer.

Sometimes we feel the need to try to make a compromise with the Lord. I am a first watch-person, you’re a fourth-watch God, could we perhaps meet in the middle, and you come to me at the end of the second watch or beginning of the third? But in my experience the only time He is a first-watch God is in matters of repentance.

He is always quick to forgive us.

But in more cases than not, our God is a fourth-watch God.

Principle Three – Tight Like a Dish

Several times in my life, I have felt that I am past the fourth watch. I have felt like I am in the ninth or tenth watch at times. It is in these moments that we learn principle number three – Tight like a Dish.

In the Book of Ether, the brother of Jared is building barges, and these barges are unique vessels. Listen to the description found in Ether 2:

“And they were built after a manner that they were exceedingly tight, even that they would hold water like unto a dish; and the bottom thereof was tight like unto a dish; and the sides thereof were tight like unto a dish; and the ends thereof were peaked; and the top thereof was tight like unto a dish; and the length thereof was the length of a tree; and the door thereof, when it was shut, was tight like unto a dish.”

Five times the Lord tells the brother of Jared that the vessels would be tight like unto a dish or in other words, waterproof. But this also creates an issue.

Because they were tight, no air could get in them, and there would be no light. The Lord provides a solution for the air problem, they would have to cork the top and bottom of the ships. But the brother of Jared would need to come up with a solution for the light so they could see. The Lord gives him some parameters and says, “You can’t have windows and you can’t have fire.” He then explains to the brother of Jared why: “You’re going to be like a whale and the waves are going to dash upon you and the winds will come out of my mouth.”

Stop. Listen with your spiritual ears to the language of the Lord. Just like the disciples on the sea, these waves are going to crash and beat down on you, but those waves and the wind from my mouth are going push you and move you through the ocean. He continues,

“And behold, I prepare you against these things; for ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds which have gone forth, and the floods which shall come. Therefore, what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea?”

The principle is this, when we are swallowed up in the depths of the sea, when we are being beat down by the waves and winds of life, when we have prayed and waited and we’re in the ninth, tenth, twelfth watch and we don’t see any relief, this may be the Lord telling us, “Your ship is tight like a dish. I have prepared you for this, that ye may have LIGHT when ye are swallowed up. But you are not going to sink.”

You are prepared for this.

He is saying, “I have placed you in situations and circumstances that have prepared you for this moment. You may not feel that you’re ready, but you are.”

One of My Loneliest Times

Here is a final quick story from when I first moved to Texas.

I didn’t know a soul. I was in a dark and lonely place for a long time. It was horrible. I woke up, went to work, came home, and sat in my apartment alone. My co-workers were making choices that I didn’t want to make. My ward was a family ward and I was a single guy. I felt completely abandoned by God and everything else. I finally got to the point where I gave up, I called my dad, and scheduled a flight for him to come get me. It was that weekend that I decided to go to the singles ward all the way across town. I was in the foyer and barely aware of my surroundings when I was introduced to Babbi for the first time. There were a lot more twists and turns that came after that moment, but that chance meeting in the foyer at church changed my life.

In one of my loneliest times, when the waves and winds were crashing in on my world, the Lord said, “Just hang in there. I have prepared you for this and the light is coming.”

He Will Come

Brothers and sisters, these are not easy things. There is not a one-size-fits-all answer to our uniquely-tailored journey on the covenant path. Each of us has different experiences and circumstances that test us and try us. I urge you to keep holding on. Continue to pray to your Father. He does love you, He is aware of you and is watching over you.

Remember, He will never give you harmful things in answer to heartfelt prayers. He has prepared you for this, that ye may have LIGHT when you feel “swallowed up.”

He will come to you.

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