Originally published on www.thegospelcoalition.org
Early on a Tuesday morning in April 2007, I got on my knees and confessed to God that my walk with him was too comfortable. I asked him to show me a way my husband and I might stretch the limits of our comfort zone, to be better contributors to his kingdom.
When I finished praying, I switched on the radio and immediately heard a woman making a plea for homes to host French students visiting America for one week. A fast answer to prayer! I talked to my husband, made the call, and, two weeks later, Celine came into our life. Two months later, we hosted Axl for three weeks, and by the start of school, Su Ying joined our family for an entire year.
Our time with these vibrant students was stretching, joyful, and a tremendous blessing. “Ask and it will be given to you” indeed (Matt. 7:7).
Opening our home to international students, however, was mere groundwork for the culminating answer to that prayer. Five months after we asked God for a mission, Jacqueline fell into our lives.
Answer to Prayer
I first saw her in the hallway of the school where I taught. She had a gigantic binder tucked under her arm as she walked to her third-grade classroom with an air of utter confidence and control. I was captivated by her impossibly huge dark eyes, wavy pixie cut, full cheeks, and tiny frame.
The next time I saw Jacqueline, she was screaming, being carried hand and foot down the hallway by two disheveled teachers who’d had the audacity to ask her to stay in from recess to finish her homework. Her reaction was unexpected, a response to past trauma.
On good days, Jacqueline would receive the privilege of coming into my classroom to read to Dudley, our therapy dog. On bad days, she was relegated to her own classroom, stripped of all privileges.
Eventually, we learned that Jacqueline’s hard circumstances necessitated an adoption plan. Her needs and our desire to help coincided in a way that seemed a clear answer to our prayers.
Jacqueline came into our home in the summer of 2008 and officially became our daughter one year later. She left our home in hostility in the summer of 2016 and hasn’t returned.
Didn’t We Pray?
Our experience with Jackie couldn’t have been further from our hopes, leaving us devastated and confused. Though there were times when we were optimistic about our daughter, the aggression, social-service investigations, police visits, hospitalizations, endless counseling sessions, stealing, running away, and chaos that often pervaded our home during the nearly nine years she lived with us ultimately left us with more questions than answers.
God, we wondered, did we not ask for success with our daughter? Did we not seek your face at every turn when we were raising her? Did we not desperately pound on the door of your grace with every challenge and crisis we faced?
The daughter God blessed us with rejected us at every turn, and ultimately left our home without looking back. We wondered if God’s promises had failed.
When my husband and I prayed over and for our daughter, we boldly asked God to save her from the trauma and turbulence of her formative years. We were specific. Lord, please give us the wisdom to help Jackie bridle her temper. Father, please give Jackie good success in school. Abba, please be with us in today’s counseling session, because it’s going to be a rough one.
We had a hopeful expectation that God would fulfill the words of Matthew 7, but we felt instead like we had asked and not been given, sought and not found, knocked and encountered only a barrier between us and our daughter.
Were we mistaken that Jackie was an answer to my prayer all those years ago?
J. I. Packer, in his marvelous book Knowing God, addresses our tendency to “feel sure that God has enabled us to understand all his ways with us . . . and to be able to see at once the reason for anything that may happen to us in the future.” He writes:
And then something very painful and quite inexplicable comes along, and our cheerful illusion of being in God’s secret counsels is shattered. Our pride is wounded; we feel that God has slighted us; and unless at this point we repent and humble ourselves very thoroughly for our former presumption, our whole subsequent spiritual life may be blighted.
We thought we knew what God was doing. The painful results of our failed adoption, however, reminded us that God is God, and we are not.
In the two years since our daughter left, God has graciously shown us that the thing we asked him to grant—success with Jackie—wasn’t ultimate. The ultimate answer to our prayers was God himself.
In his kindness and love, he gave himself freely and abundantly. When counseling sessions loomed and police lights flashed outside the front door, we knew our weakness and his faithfulness in a way we’d never known it before.
Over time, he has enabled us to see that our consummate desire, our highest request, the objective of our seeking, the only door to eternal life, is delight in the Father through his Son and the fellowship we enjoy with his Spirit.
Elsewhere in Knowing God, Packer writes: “[God’s] ultimate objective is to bring [people] to a state in which they please him entirely and praise him adequately, a state in which he is all in all to them, and he and they rejoice continually in the knowledge of each other’s love.”
It is good and right to ask God to provide needs and wants. But ultimately, our prayers must be for his glory and his will. All other prayers—for provision and healing and safety and peace—must remain subordinate to the desire for God himself.
Whatever our circumstances, the Spirit enables us to better know God, rejoice in his plans, love what he loves, and delight in fellowship with him. Understanding that our ultimate good is knowing and enjoying God keeps us from debilitating disappointment and doubt when his provision isn’t provided in the way we expect.
We love our daughter. And we trust that God is working for good in her life and in ours, no matter what the end of our story may be. We continue to pray and hope that Jackie, like the prodigal, will return and receive the love and benefit of belonging to our family. But though currently the answer to that prayer remains a “no,” we’re grateful for the sweet comfort we have come to know from our gracious and loving Savior.