47. When God Says No

by Feb 12, 20242024

I lost my wife – my best friend and the love of my life – two years ago. It’s been said that God answers every prayer, even if the answer is sometimes “no”. My wife, Janie, and I battled cancer for 18 years, and you can be sure we prayed many prayers for her healing. Yet after our long and difficult battle, the day finally came when we knew God’s answer to those prayers would be “no”.

Seeing God in Unanswered Prayers

Responding to “no” answers from a God we know is all-loving and all-powerful, and able to do “immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20, NIV), can be hard. Perhaps that’s a huge understatement when it comes to matters of life and death. Yet Janie and I had both experienced God’s Presence, as He faithfully walked with and comforted us through year after year of scans, tests, treatments and the many losses cancer brings. It had been a training ground of sorts, so that when we faced this final “no” to what we had hoped and prayed for, we were able to trust He was still working for good, even if we didn’t see or understand it all.

I’d like to share a couple of stories that occurred at the time we received our “no” response. My goal in doing so is to testify to the personal way in which I’ve experienced how God “works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, NIV).

Just a few weeks before Janie’s passing, we had a much-anticipated meeting. Its purpose was to review the results of testing that would determine if Janie was eligible to be part of a clinical trial. The group of us, including a panel of oncological doctors, a surgeon, a trial case manager, a physician assistant and nurses – 12 in all – gathered in an exam room. As the professionals began to review the case notes, several perceived what was written to be a typo. Surely, they expressed, Janie’s survival could not be 12 years, but only 1.2 years. But no, this alone was a miracle, as Janie had survived 10 years longer than any patient with her cancer in the history of the hospital. Next, a blood work study was reviewed. It was these results that shifted us abruptly from thankful amazement about Janie’s survival rate to plummeting emotions and deafening silence. Her creatinine level was a mere .02% over the limit of what would be admitted to the trial. The door to our only, and last treatment opportunity, had just been closed.

Upon hearing this news, Janie put her head on my chest, and I grasped her hand and began to pray quietly into her ear. An apology for the difficult news was expressed and the room began to empty. As we continued to remain in that posture, we then received a surprise of a different kind. The doctor who had left the room last, immediately returned. He asked us if we were Christians, and we both looked up and said, “Yes!” He then proceeded to share. “You cannot imagine what I have endured from people in your stage of cancer when they receive news like what was just given to you. I have been on the receiving end of their rage and their hysteria. You two prayed quietly! I just became a Christian and what you showed me today cements the fact that the decision I made was the right one. Thank you so very much!”

We cried out in thanksgiving that we could be a small part of his choice to place his faith in God. And while our hearts still grieved, God allowed us to see Him glorified in our pain, filling even this devastating moment with purpose!

The second story occurred immediately following. Before we had left this appointment, our oncologist approached us to see if she could coordinate an appointment for us at City of Hope that same day. Throughout our 18-year cancer battle, we had been treated there before and in light of being denied for the trial, were willing to explore any opportunity. We arrived an hour later and were immediately recognized and warmly greeted. Without us realizing it, the nurse had begun calling doctors, nurses, and other administrative staff. Within moments, many of them were gathered around us, applauding, and telling us we were heroes at City of Hope! When they asked how Janie had survived a cancer no one had ever beaten for more than 24 months, we were again able to testify to the mercy of God we had experienced through the prayers of hundreds.

His Power in Weakness

As I recount these stories, I don’t want to minimize what an unimaginable time of suffering this was for me and Janie, or that it is for anyone who experiences the devastation of an unanswered prayer. But what I want to highlight even more is the grace of God we experienced in the midst of it. I can testify of God just as the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:9. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Yes, receiving a “no” answer from God is hard. And while that “no” may withhold something we deeply desire, He never withholds Himself. I can honestly say that while I still miss Janie terribly, losing her has brought me back to my first love in ways that perhaps a “yes” answer couldn’t. Finding and experiencing God through the circumstances His “no” brought has truly been His greatest gift.

My prayer is that you will allow any unanswered prayer you’ve prayed to drive you into the arms of Jesus, and not away. He will meet you there and He truly is The Indescribable Gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15)