I can’t tell you how many times I have been told ‘No’ — but there’s nothing worse than when you are asking God a question, or for something you really want, and His answer is ‘No’. This week I got to talk to my son about getting answers to prayers. He wanted to know why God says no instead of giving us what we ask for. It was the first time in my life that I could stand at the other end of a decision with a clear view, and a real knowledge that God was looking out for me when He said no.
When God Said No
When I was in college, I met a guy that I really fell for. We will call him Peter. We dated for a year, and we wanted to get married. But when we both prayed about whether it was right for us to get married, we both got a very firm “No” in response.
What?! We were adults, we knew each other well, we were the same religion, and seemed to have similar life goals. But God had other people in mind for us.
Unfortunately, we lacked faith or wisdom or both, because we were so determined that we asked God again. He gave us another firm “No,” stronger than the last time. It was painful! Peter was having a hard time with that answer, and prayed fervently about it a third time — and he got an answer that shut us both up permanently.
The third time Peter prayed, the Lord said, “No. But if you ask again, I will say yes. And you will both be damned for it.” Now who can enter a marriage with that kind of message? I was stunned! Damned?! Crap! Well, I definitely stopped asking. It was my personal Martin Harris situation, an echo of when he asked Joseph Smith to see the newly translated pages of the Book of Mormon.
Joseph and Martin
As you know, the Lord said no many times when Joseph wanted to allow Martin Harris to take the newly translated pages of the Book of Mormon home with him. He wanted to show it to his wife. And God said no. But they kept asking.
The Lord finally said yes, and the pages were lost forever. I love that God prepared for that situation. We still have the precious messages of those pages because God told Nephi to repeat a lot of what his father, Lehi, said hundreds of years ago.
I know that Martin Harris and Joseph Smith were both devastated by that experience. I hope they forgave themselves, because their experience was a lesson and a blessing for me. By learning of their experience, I had already seen how the Lord works. I didn’t doubt when I heard Peter’s explanation. It gave me courage to follow the Lord’s will and trust His plan.
Blessings from Obedience
It was hard, but Peter and I moved on and both married other people. We kept in touch, and our lives have taken very different directions. I can truly see now why God wanted us with other people. We would never have been able to accomplish the great things we have both done if we were together.
I got to share some of this story with my son, and I got to walk him through how I met my husband, his father. Then I shared some of the blessings we experienced together that brought this sweet boy into our lives. It was a beautiful reminiscence and the perfect cap to a difficult trial in my life.
Looking at the big picture, I see all the blessings the Lord had in mind for me. My husband is an amazing man, and I have been able to serve the Lord by his side in unique and historic ways. We experienced a series of miracles that led up to us having our son. And I would have never started writing if I hadn’t met an amazing lady half a world away.
Not often are we able to stand at the other end of an experience and look back and see the Lord’s hand and His reasons so clearly. Usually we are sitting at the beginning of a journey, struggling to accept the Lord’s answers. Sometimes too we are trying to hear an answer from the Lord to help us with a decision. My son wanted to know how to understand the answer God is trying to give us when we pray.
How to Hear an Answer
It can be hard to hear the Lord when you aren’t used to it. But the Lord hasn’t left us to guess how He works. In the scriptures, God promises to answer us, and to tell us His answers in our minds and in our hearts. I am grateful God always uses more than one witness when teaching us. I have often relied on that second witness to assure myself I am headed in the right direction. And He never disappoints.
Sometimes my second witness will come from an unexpected place: a conversation with a friend, a song on the radio, or an impression in my heart as I sit in church. Often the messages of songs will speak to me, or something a friend posts on social media will jump from the page. The Lord speaks to each of us in our own language and in the way each soul will best understand. So how He speaks to me will likely be different than how He speaks to you. But the feeling of certainty is the same.
The very best way to get a real answer when you are seeking for guidance in your life is to follow the Lord’s council in Doctrine & Covenants 9: 7-9.
7 Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
8 But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
9 But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.
Not Every Yes is Easy
Studying out an issue will often open your mind to the possibilities and challenges a new opportunity presents. It is also a great way to see how you personally are feeling about things. I remember when I was pregnant with our miracle baby (my son), and my husband got a new job offer. He had prayed about it and felt God wanted him to take it. I prayed too. We had studied it out, and I knew his job would require a lot of travel. Oh, how I dreaded that! We had never been apart since we got married.
But the firm answer from God was that he should take the job; that the job would present me with challenges, but that it would be best for my husband’s career. He took the job. And even though his travel schedule has been a challenge, I have grown SO much! I really feel like I needed this growth, because I no longer doubt myself when he is away.
His work-related travel has lessened over the years — but the lessons are still here in my heart. It made me a stronger woman and a better mother and spouse. I couldn’t have learned this lesson with my husband here to save me from every challenge. I am grateful for the confidence and strength I’ve gained.
Not Every No is Forever
So there you have it: an answer to why God says no. It’s because He has plans for us that we can’t see or understand. And only after the trial has passed and we have learned the lesson can we start to see His vision for us. He loves us and wants the best for us. And often the things we are asking for aren’t what is best for us. I know that every time He has said no, He was redirecting my life. I get caught up in the temporary things. But He wants us all to see the permanent, eternal things.
One day we will all stand at the end of the journey and look back and see every reason for every challenge we’ve face. We will see what we learned from it, as well as why God wanted us to learn those things. And we will see with gratitude that we have become more and stronger for every one of them. Trials suck while we are enduring them, but they end, while the lessons they teach us last forever.
May you be blessed as you seek your answers from God. And may you trust Him, even when He says no.
(This article was previously published on Abby’s blog on Patheos.com)
Abby is a one of those women who accidentally finds herself on the PTA board. She loves to be involved, and nothing matters more to her than her family and her faith. She comes from a family with many autistic members. And now she gets to see how her mother felt raising an autistic son. As she wades into this new world, she invites us to join her. Hopefully, we will all learn something new along the way. If you or a family member have autism yourself, Abby wants you to know that this isn't a bad thing. It's just an adjustment, and you or your loved one are not sick or broken. Together we will learn this new language.