When You’ve Got More Questions Than Answers (And Why That Might be OK)

September 18, 2012 | 50 comments

I’m afraid of messing this up. 

That’s the thought running through my mind as I recline in the bed next to my daughter,  who catapults hard questions into the inky hollowness above us.

I can’t see her tears, but I can hear them. It’s the way her tiny voice wobbles and squeaks. I reach along my side, to find her hand in the dark.

“Why doesn’t God answer my prayers, Mom?” She snaps out the words, like they’re hot, like she has to spit them out before they burn. “Doesn’t He hear me?”

I let out my breath in one steady stream, into the quiet above her polka-dotted comforter, begging silently for some shred of inspiration that I can offer to a 10-year-old girl with the hardest of questions.

The only words I can find hover like useless syllables above us: “I don’t know, Lydia. I just don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t.”

I blink back my own tears. I want to offer more.  I am her mother, the one she is trusting tonight with the answers. And this is it? A series of “I don’t knows?”

Truth is, I’ve uttered the same questions in those moments when my prayers boomeranged back without the answers I begged for. I’ve pounded my fists into armchairs and bed-pillows and the carpet when God hasn’t acted the way I wanted him to.

I’ve hurled furious questions into the darkness, too. There’s more questions from her on this dark night: “I’m angry, Mom. Sometimes, I’m angry at God. Do you think He’s mad at me when I say that? Will He still love me?”

I turn on my side and rub her cheek. I do know the answer to this one: “God loves you. Always. And Lydia, don’t you ever forget it. You promise? No matter the pain, or the heartache, or the mystery of this world. No matter if you can’t see one step in front of you, or if you can’t make sense of anything behind you, He always loves you. He loved you all the way to the cross and back. And that, my daughter, is a promise I believe with every ounce of my life.”

I keep caressing that soft cheek. And we let the answers hang there awhile.

It’s a bittersweet moment.

Sweet, because this is what I’ve always wanted: honest exchanges about faith with my girls. I’ve never wanted them to be ashamed of their questions, or to feel the need to sugar-coat their feelings, or to shellac their ache with cliches´. I’ve only wanted them to be gut-level honest with a God who knows what they’re feeling anyway.

But it’s bitter, too. Bitter because of the pain that led to these honest questions that she casts out into the dark. She’s 10, but she has seen how the unthinkable happens to vulnerable people in a crooked world:

* One of our daughters’ young friends recently died.

* A young Haitian boy we love has been very ill.

* And in two days, Lydia will return to the operating room. Back in April, she had a skin-graft to cover a hole in her eardrum. The surgery failed. And she’s scared to go back on Thursday.

Here in the dark, she reminds me how we had prayed together, right here in this bed, for a successful surgery. Did God not hear those prayers? That’s the question she wants the unvarnished answer to. And what about when Jesus said that whatever we ask in prayer, if we believe, we will receive? 

In moments like these, I panic on the inside, and I become self-focused enough to think that my words will make or break something. Like, if I say the right or wrong thing, she’ll gain — or lose — another ounce of confidence in her Father.

As if it were entirely up to me.

I am only beginning to learn that it might be OK to whisper a raspy “I don’t know” into the dark. (Especially in these moments when I actually don’t.) And I’m beginning to wonder if every “I don’t know” carries more light into the dark places than a cliche´ I picked up along the way.

I’m not altogether sure. Like I said, I just. don’t. know. about a lot of things.

And I’m beginning to think that these are the subtlest God-incidences, the kind that you find hanging like almost-imperceptible silver threads in darkness. These moments are their own form of blessed assurances, that even when we cannot see, we know that daylight is coming, to outshine all the “I don’t knows” and the mystery of a faith that has less to do with what I understand, and more to do with what He undertook.

Indeed, every ounce of pain or suffering will ultimately lead the thoughts of a believing child and her mama back to a Savior who fully grasped both.  And that part? I do understand. Even if it’s just a small beginning, a little light, enough to see in that dark. I do understand that.

And I think that she might, too.


“I have learned that faith means trusting in advance what will only make sense in reverse.”

-Philip Yancey


{Pray for Lydia? Surgery is 9 a.m. Thursday. Grateful for you.}



We write in community every Wednesday about the God-Things that make you go, “Hmmm…”

Some call them coincidences. We call them God-incidences. And those goosebumps you get sometimes when you know the Holy Spirit is at work? Yep. They’re God-Bumps.

Want to join the chorus of words for our God? Pick either button below, attach it to your post, tell your story. Then, link up with this post.





by | September 18, 2012 | 50 comments


  1. Pam

    I will definitely be praying! One of the things that has helped me in moments like Lydia is going through is to find a Bible promise I can hold onto. Maybe one that tells her how he is holding onto her, and won’t let her go…is carrying her close to His heart. Thank you for letting us know to pray.

  2. ro.ellott

    I will be praying for her…for your momma’s heart…and I too have found I don’t know why is a good answer…but as I grow more confident in knowing who He is…how He loves…I can wrap this not knowing… in words of hope because of who I have come to know Him to be. We as parents don’t have to have the answers…our kids want to look in our eyes and see if we know…really know this God we speak of. It’s not having the right words…it’s more about us living a real relationship with our Savior…out of that love affair we give to others. Jennifer…this very place…out of your relationship will you give living food for your children to be nourished on.
    Blessings to you this week~

  3. Monica Sharman

    Yes, ma’am. 9 a.m. Thursday. On my calendar.

  4. kelliwoodford

    I love honest and raw conversations with my kids, too.
    Love when we have to live like we actually *believe* God’s big enough to take all our unanswered questions.
    Will pray for dear Lydia. Underneath are the everlasting arms.

  5. S. Etole

    Prayers for both of you and the surgeon’s hands. What a beautiful little girl.

  6. Danise Jurado

    Prayers for Lydia and for your mama’s heart… trusting God with all the “I don’t knows” in life is never easy… but it seems so much harder to trust when they are the “I don’t knows” in our children’s lives. May His hope continue to encourage you both 🙂 Blessings

  7. Alida

    Praying here in Belize too…blessings to you and your little girl.

  8. Helen Murray

    Thankyou for this. I found you in a series of jumps and I can’t find my way back; I’d like to thank the people who led me here.
    Needed to read that today. I sometimes think I have no answers at all but it’s a good job that He does.
    Praying for you and your daughter on Thursday. Not sure of the time difference (I’m in the UK) but I don’t think it’ll matter. I’ve waited in recovery for my daughter too, and I’ll be with you.

  9. Christina

    I’ve been there too. I want to have all the answers for my kids. I like that you say ‘I don’t know’ is an acceptable answer. Part of the faith journey is wrestling with the fact that we can’t know everything, that some answers won’t be found until eternity, and that faith is walking blind in the darkness, trusting Him for the next step. Loved this post, as always:)

  10. Susan

    I will absolutely pray for your sweet Lydia. And for her mama 🙂

  11. Joe Pote

    Your words touched my heart, this morning, Jennifer.

    Lydia is a precious girl, with a wise mama and a loving God.

    These words: “… every “I don’t know” carries more light into the dark places than a cliche´ I picked up along the way”

    Absolutely! An honest “I don’t know” conveys true hope and faith in a God who does know.

    Praying for Lydia and for you!

  12. Karen

    “the mystery of a faith that has less to do with what I understand, and more to do with what He undertook.”…that’s it exactly…

    Praying for your girl and her family…and mom…you are doing a great job!

  13. Kris

    Oh yes, praying praying praying!!

  14. Shelly Miller

    You’ve expressed so many of the bedtime conversations I’ve had with my kids and the myriads of “I don’t knows” that go with them. And I think you’re right, sometimes saying that sheds more light than a cerebral answer. I’ll be praying for that sweet girl. She’s so lucky to have you for a mom.

  15. Danelle

    I am praying for you Jennifer and your sweet daughter. Sometimes the “I don’t know” is the truth of our heart and is the balm for our children’s soul (and our own). Love you.

  16. Jody Lee Collins

    Jennifer–I’ve been in the waiting room in the hospital with both of my children having ear operations. So stressful. Your daughter is blessed to have you for a mom, no doubt. Jesus, bring miracles (spiritual and physical.) amen! praying on Thursday with you.

  17. Julie

    I will be praying for Lydia as she goes for surgery. Praying that she will be at peace and have a quick painless recovery time. I will also be praying that God reveals his loving character though her (and all of us) asking the hard questions!

    Hugs to you and Lydia!


  18. Brandee Shafer

    I think my favorite thing is how honest you are with her when you don’t know. I’m Lydia in this story, and often. “I don’t know,” is refreshing. I find that people so often want to fix it when they can’t, and explain it away when they can’t, and slap scripture (often out of context) on it when they shouldn’t. I find “I love you. I’m here for you,” to be the perfect response, and everything about this exchange communicates that. Tell your girl: I’m sorry for her pain and that I’ll be praying for her.

  19. Laurie Collett

    Praying for you both. Thanks for the honest, touching post & for hosting the linkup, & God bless!

  20. emily wierenga

    oh my dear jennifer. this makes me cry. for your sweet girl, and for all of the hard unanswered questions. praying hard. please, Jesus, breathe faith into Lydia’s heart and healing into her ear…

  21. Megan Willome

    Oh, oh, oh, I will pray. I told you J.J. had this surgery, too, right? So it just hurts to know that it didn’t take (such a sensitive procedure & recovery!). She still flinches every time the doctor looks in her ear–so many scars from that time. Maybe she blames God. I don’t know. Like you, I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.

  22. Kim

    Thanks, as always, for hosting God-Bumps and God-Incidences. I wish I had been more open with my prayer life with my kids. You are doing an amazing job of “living” the prayer. As adults, we still “don’t know” sometimes, and letting Lydia explore this while she’s still in the safety of your arms and home is absolutely one of your most important jobs. Prayers for Lydia AND her mama.

  23. Dolly@Soulstops

    Praying for Lydia, and for your mama heart, and for you both to be drawn up close to His heart of love…must be in the air, because I posted about when God says “no” on Monday…hugs to you, Jennifer. Let us know how it goes, if you can…

  24. Mary Beth

    Praying for you and Lydia. Thanks for sharing this honest picture of what it’s like to talk openly with your daughter. I hope to have a relationship like that with my children as they grow!

  25. Diana Trautwein

    Prayers for your sweet, smart, sensitive girl and for you, too, Momma Jen. This is good conversation, you gave good, honest answers. That is the.best.thing. we can do for our kids, be honest – especially when we don’t have the answers. We don’t have to have all the answers, we just have to learn to lean on the truth of the gospel, and to be open to the movement of God – even when it feels like God hasn’t been listening very well. And absolutely, God can manage Lydia’s anger. That is the very best place for it. No exceptions. You done good, mom. Yeah.

  26. Sandra Heska King

    Oh Lydia. If God was mad at me when I was mad at Him, I’d be in very big trouble. He gave us emotions, and it seems to me He’s the safest one to share them with.

    I don’t know why He answers like He does or doesn’t answer my way. I can only trust that He wants me to ask and that somehow that brings us closer. And that His answer might be yes or no or not now or I’ve got something better (and maybe He winks while He hugs me close.)

    I don’t know, but I have to trust that He knows. That He sees things from a totally different perspective and will work everything–everything–out for my good. Jesus asked for the cup to be removed, too, and it wasn’t–and though it was very, very bad at the time, it was very, very good–cuz He loved/loves us all the way to the cross and back.

    Grace and I will both be praying for you and your mama. God’s got a great big plan for you, sweet girl. I know it. And I can’t wait to meet you face-to-face.

  27. Nancy Franson

    I saw your response to Diana on FB, and wanted to read her wise words to you. So glad I did so I can join others in praying for your sweet girl.

    The only thing I know for sure, when my heart is broken and it seems as though God isn’t answering my prayers, is that he grieves with me as his dear daughter. And he knows better than any of us what it is like to watch his dearly beloved son suffer anguish.

    Hugs to you and Lydia.

  28. Lisa Auter

    Happy-sad tears as I read this. I just started having my first faith-talks with my 8 year old (she was introduced to Jesus a little over a year ago). She hasn’t asked those hard questions yet, but I have been faced with the “I don’t know” answers I’ve needed to say. It is so hard on us mamas who want to give the world to our children….to realize that we simply can’t. We don’t have all the answers. Our Savior does. And He is a Mystery often times…and faith is believing the unseen and accepting that Mystery…the I Don’t Know-ness….prayers for you and Lydia….hugs for you both…and a special hug for you because you are doing such a fantastic job being a godly mother for your girls. And helping us other mothers how to figure out things along the way as well. xoxoxo

  29. kendal

    oh, jen. just oh. and praying for your little.

  30. Michelle Eichner

    How precious – and hard! I love how you share your heart! I will pray for you & for Lydia. Give yourself a hug. Love, Michelle

  31. Paul Willingham

    Jennifer and Lydia:

    Got to this post operation. Praying for the both of you. God’s been so good to me during my chemo. I know he will be good to Lydia and you. If we knew all the answers we wouldn’t need God. That is why he is God.


  32. Alice

    My children have had several ear problems going up… I will pray for her surgery, recovery, and results! But the question was such a difficult one! Your faith and deep love will lead you both through this! (PS… love the Abide by Him in the picture!:) Blessings to you Jennifer!

  33. kelli- AdventurezInChildRearing

    will be praying for Lydia into the night and in the morning- will pray for you too mama!

    For those times when we just don’t understand:

    Mark 9:24 — Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

    He will meet us right where we are! 😉

  34. Lynn Morrissey

    Oh dear Jennifer. Praying for that sweet girl of yours tomorrow. Praying for you, too, as you pray for her!! “I don’t know.” Such honest words, but you have pointed her to the One who does. God bless you both and may He draw you both so close and bring her healing through surgery.

  35. Mari Mayborn

    Praying with you. He is with you.

  36. Barbara Isaac

    Gut-wrenching honest walk with God day by day, I so so so love it! Praying for Lydia today.



  38. Diane Bailey

    I have never heard that Phillip Yancey quote before. It is perfect! Praying for you baby girl. I am praying “let Her who has ears, Hear” with a perfect graft!

  39. Melanie

    What an honest, heartfelt post…from a mom who loves her children. Enough to say I don’t know.
    This morning I sat in a bible study as a woman shared some devastating, heart breaking news in her own journey to being a mom. Women around me were offering their interpretation…and I too wanted to have an answer. But most honestly was I don’t know.
    Praying now as the surgery is probably over, for recovery and your precious hearts.

  40. laura

    Oh, Jennifer. Sorry I’m late here but I am praying all is well. Teddy will have this same surgery over Thanksgiving and we are all anxious. Nothing has worked in the past and it seems too much to hope…so I understand Lydia’s questions a little. Praying.

  41. Jean Wise

    been praying and following your comments on Facebook today. will continue to keep you all in my prayers.

  42. Janet Macy

    So glad it is over now.

    When we can’t find the answer, God will help us live with the question. But it took me years to accept that.

    Isaiah 43:1-2 “When we go through the fire, the water, the floods He WILL be with us” We’re told here that fire and floods and lots of questions will happen in this life. We will not be spared because we are Christians. The real promise here is that he WILL be with us.

    Of course, that doesn’t help a child understand why God didn’t answer the prayer, does it?

  43. Kim

    I thought of you and Lydia often yesterday. Praying the surgery went well and that she is on her way toward recovery this time. Blessings to you and yours.

  44. floyd

    I don’t know either, but I suspect God is creating a strong follower who will know how to stand up to fear and encourage others in her life… jut the way our Father planned it.

    I’m praying for Lydia’s surgery. You’re a great mom… What a blessing for your girls…

  45. Salina

    Thanks for the link-up. This was such a sweet exchange between you and your daughter.

    I absolutely love this quote!

    “I have learned that faith means trusting in advance what will only make sense in reverse.”

  46. Cheryl Smith

    I don’t know either. I’m grateful when he does, and equally perplexed when he doesn’t, at least not with a yes like we want. And grateful that for all the no’s in my life, he’s been there, steady and constant and faithful. Praying for you all as Lydia recovers.



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