Part 2: But If Not... When Prayers Might Not Be Answered As You Hope

“Please bless that the two new spots in Mommy’s brain are not cancer.” 

This most recent phrase from my eight-year-old son’s prayers tugs at my heartstrings, but also causes me to question faith.

Living with stage IV cancer is a constant battle of choosing to move forward in my own faith. Just when I think that faith is unwavering, hearing these prayers causes me to wonder:

Will the reality that this illness may someday take my life challenge the faith of my three sons, who constantly pray that their mom won’t die from cancer?

Have I taught them that God loves them and hears their prayers, even when the answers aren’t exactly what they hope?

Do they know that having faith that Mom will be healed must include having the faith that it’s okay if she’s not, that God is still in charge and has a plan for our family?

I’ve wrestled with these questions, especially when I am not completely sure where my own thoughts fall in all of it. I have faith in a loving Heavenly Father and in a Savior who died that I might return to Him. I know the power of healing miracles. However, part of me feels like I’m abandoning my faith to be healed whenever my thoughts waver between believing I’ll stay healthy, and preparing myself for the eventual news that doctors someday won’t be able to stop cancer from taking over. I beat myself up, thinking that perhaps my faith is not strong enough for the big miracle, the one my children plead for in their prayers. Maybe I’m a person “of little faith,” and that’s why cancer keeps coming back. (see Matthew 8:26).

Then, I remember a story Elder David A. Bednar has told:

In ministering to a young couple, one suffering with a devastating cancer diagnosis, Elder Bednar asked,

“Do you have the faith not to be healed? If it is the will of our Heavenly Father that you are transferred by death in your youth to the spirit world to continue your ministry, do you have the faith to submit to His will and not be healed?”

When I first read this, five years ago, I immediately related.

Just recently, however, something new jumped out at me, “…a principle that applies to every devoted disciple: strong faith in the Savior is submissively accepting of His will and timing in our lives—even if the outcome is not what we hoped for or wanted.”

There it was. Some comfort over my big faith question—When I understand and accept that the outcome of the prayers we are all hoping for might not be God’s will, I am actually developing greater faith. In fact, this is a HUGE part of understanding trials and tribulations and learning to submit to the will of the Father and “to not shrink.” 

The scriptures are filled with accounts of those who understand that life is full of choices that could end up with a hard outcome, yet continue to press forward.

Esther knew her life was at peril, but she still prepared to go in unto the king.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego explained to King Nebuchadnezzar that God had the power to deliver them, but He could choose to not use that power. They then testified that if God did not deliver them from their fiery furnace, they would not turn away.

The Savior himself prayed to ask if the cup could pass, knowing that prayer was a long shot. He continued and finished His work.

The sons of the people of Ammon, who were fighting to preserve their lives and liberty, turned to the Lord:

“Therefore, we did pour out our souls in prayer to God, that he would strengthen us and deliver us…and also give us strength…and God did visit us with assurances that he would deliver us…he did speak peace to our souls, and did grant unto us great faith, and did cause us that we should hope for our deliverance in him.” (see Alma 58: 10-11).

This passage stood out to me recently, as I am fighting to preserve my own life. Doctors recently found two small spots in my brain, after more than a year in remission. A few days after this discovery, I read these verses. I was suddenly overcome with the warmth of the spirit, and tears rolled down my cheeks. At first, my children all looked up from their books to see if something was wrong.

“Why are you crying, Mom?”

“Is something wrong?”

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. I love what these words are teaching me. What this says is important to me.”

I continued to read through the tears, and their attention was focused.

After finishing the chapter, I explained:

“These prayers weren’t just about having the bad and scary stuff taken away. The people asked for strength for the fight, knowing that fights can be lost. Maybe, it’s kind of like Heavenly Father blessing us, even when cancer does come back.”

God is in charge. He wants us to have faith in His plan and be willing to submit, even when our prayers might not be answered how we hope they will. When faith is sufficient, we can be healed, but healing doesn’t always mean the trials will be taken away. Once we understand this and choose to carry on, healing comes—even if that healing is only through strength to endure, or greater faith, peace, and hope in God’s plans.

Melodee Cooper is a Texan by birth, an Aggie by choice, the wife of a fellow Aggie because “he loves her more,” and a mother of three boys by a combination of time, modern science, and divine intervention. She has taught both 5th and 6th grade math and science, and is now able to be a stay-at-home mom, an amateur decorator, a crafter, a blogger, and a holiday enthusiast. She is battling Stage 4 cancer while remaining optimistic and grateful for the blessings in her life.

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