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Growing in Faith

alec vanderboom

I got really angry twice during my daughter's NICU stay.*

The first time, a Catholic called me on the phone at 7 AM one morning and asked me about the status of Baby Tess. I told her that nothing had changed. (My daughter was still sick 5 days after her emergency abdominal surgery and had lots of bad, bloody stuff coming out of her stomach.)

Then the Catholic told me that my baby was still sick in the NICU because I hadn't prayed hard enough or said the right prayers.

Boy, did that hit a nerve! I jumped off that phone 'right quick.'

I started talking to myself. I called my husband at work, but got a busy signal. Then I called Miss Kate T., a fellow Catholic Mama with a cute newborn son who is connected to the Children's Hospital family. I think I shocked her a bit. Sweet Miss Abigail of Abigail's Alcove was raging mad.

"If anyone else tells me that my kid is still in the NICU because I haven't prayed hard enough for her healing, I'm going to punch him in the face. I mean it, Kate-- punch him in the FACE!"

That mistaken belief was such an insult to God. My God. My Baby Teresa's God. The Author of Life. The Being with whom I was in constant conversation with all during the long, long days spent by my baby's crib in the NICU.

I'd prayed for my baby to heal. I prayed deep prayers, ones that went beyond vocal prayers. I prayed deep prayers of the heart. A mother's heart.

"God grades prayers on a huge curve for mothers in the NICU," I told Miss Kate in an effort to explain why I was so angry. "God isn't sitting back there in heaven waiting for me and Jon to say the right prayers to the right saint in the right order. God is not cruel. Baby Tess is not going to get out of the NICU whenever I start praying to Saint Whatyoumaycallit. Baby Tess is going to get out of the NICU when God says that she'll get out of the NICU. God is in charge, not me!"

"I don't understand why people don't get that 'No' or 'Not Yet' is still a valid response to a prayer petition. It's a prayer REQUEST--not a magic spell."

Kate told me "People mean well, Abby."

GRRR! Kate's charitable response didn't help me immediately calm down.

Then she told me "Maybe Baby Tess is about testing people with weak faith, just as much as it is about testing you and Jon with your strong Faith."

I started breathing air once again. (Thank you, Kate for saving me!)

A few weeks later, with Baby Tess finally at home, I'm thinking more rationally about this matter. I'm not tempted anymore to punch someone in the face over this issue. Yet, I still think this matter is a vital test of faith.

What is your response when God says "No!" or "Not Yet!" to a fervent prayer request?

Because during my time as a NICU Mom, I felt that one of the major tests of being a Catholic was how I responded to my daughter staying sick for a long time and not getting better.

We Catholics are NOT pagans. We can't believe that God is someone to be manipulated and forced to dance around to our agenda. Even when our agenda seems to be something so obviously good- like the quick healing of a sick, innocent child.

Prayer is not the same as chanting spells. You can't say certain words in a prayer to God in s specific way hoping to get a certain result.

Yes, we are friends of God. Yes, we can ask him for favors, and healings, and miracles. He's our Dad and he wants us to ask for help. Yet, we must always pray with an element of deep humility. God always has the right to say No. He's God.

One of the most important questions for me as a Catholic, is how do I react when God seems to answer a prayer with "No"?

Do I stand still in my hurt and talk to God? Do I try to make sense of his denial and ask for more grace in my life? Do I struggle to go forward in hope that a "No, Not yet" is really in my best interest? In my child's best interest? Can I trust Him? Really, really trust Him? Can I trust Him with the life and soul of my newborn child?

Or do I decide that God's "No, Not Yet" means that I simply didn't phrase my prayer request properly and then repeat my prayer with different, more official wording while wandering off into "I want, I want"-ville again?

Please pray for Kate's cute Baby Joey to have a successful heart surgery on October 14.

(*hopefully, I will post about God's blessing to me in this second time later on this week)