I grew up, like many of you, reading lots of Uncle Arthur Bedtime Stories. Stories that showed when you pray things get fixed, found, protected or worked out in an amazing way. But what happens when God’s answer is a clear and unequivocal ‘no’? How do you nurture and support your student’s faith journey when that happens?
I clearly remember being on bus duty one afternoon when I noticed a Grade 5 boy looking very somber and pale. His mum was a teacher on staff. I quietly asked him how he was doing. He looked up at me with tears in his eyes and said, “I have just gotten back from the doctor’s office and I have leukemia.” The next few years were a roller coaster of chemotherapy, hospital visits, and coming to school trying to pretend everything was normal.
The school family prayed. The church family prayed. All around the country people knew the family and prayed. At the conference camp meeting four years later, with his immunity low and energy levels struggling, John* was an enthusiastic participant at as many of the teen events as he could possibly attend. He had the privilege of driving around the large campground on a golf buggy, unique opportunity that he thoroughly enjoyed.
One of the most powerful and emotional baptisms I have ever experienced was when John and three of his mates were baptized that December. As he shared his personal testimony prior to the baptism, there was hardly a dry eye in the audience. His faith was absolute. If God healed him, that would be fantastic. If He didn’t, John was okay with that.
We flew back from working in Fiji to attend his funeral only three months later. The answer was no. His peers repeatedly expressed how much they had been impacted by his journey and his assurance of God’s presence.
Imagine the reaction of that very same high school class when, two years later, I had the difficult task of sharing with that graduating Year 12 class that our School Captain, and John’s great mate Jason* was now in the throes of secondary cancer. Predictably, some students began to question God, angry at Him for not answering their prayers for John and for now seeing Jason affected.
Jason graduated with honours. He was confident that God would respond. His family was his rock. He appeared positive and had an incredible impact on his peer group. He became a part-time chaplain at the school where his mum taught. Again, prayers were raised around the country.
He died less than twelve months after he graduated from high school. Another incredibly promising life committed totally to God cut short. One of his former classmates flew back from London to be at the funeral. Again God had said no. And again an incredibly positive impact from his life of faith despite what was happening to him.
I vividly remember standing as a family in the theatre recovery room watching my son holding his stillborn son in his arms while his wife was still unconscious from the emergency caesarian and praying for a resurrection. It did not happen. My son turned to me and said, “I would trade all the small answers to prayer for this one to be answered.” The answer was a clear no.
What do we say to our students when God says no? We live in a world where God answers but is constrained by the effects of sin and the Great Controversy. God’s ideal is a world where there is no more death, sin, and suffering, where love is the absolute rule and way of life.
Our students need to see our trust and faith in the God who is with us in our troubles. God does not guarantee a life without problems. But He is also the God who guarantees He is the Resurrection and the Life, and that nothing can separate us from Him – neither death nor life!
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.