My wife Uni is the oldest of nine children, raised in a home where money and material possessions were often lacking. Her father worked in a blue collar job to provide food and shelter for his family and there was usually enough to go around -- but sometimes barely. Though Dad Cook was the most loving man one could ever meet, he usually couldn't provide for his children's desires, and sometimes even for their needs.
Uni went to work at an early age simply to provide clothing and a few extras in her life. She started baby sitting at 11; of course, by that time she had had some training in this at home. At the age of 12 she began to deliver papers in partnership with her brother, the second-born in the family. This was a radical thing in 1950 -- not a child delivering papers, but a girl.
Nobody complained; that was just the way things were.
There were times when matters got serious. When she was about 14 and sitting in class crying because of a severe toothache, a caring teacher asked who her family dentist was. When Uni replied that they didn't have a dentist, they'd never been to one, the teacher called a dentist whose office was within walking distance of the school and Uni worked out a payment plan with him. (She suspects that she was severely undercharged.)
Again, no complaints. Dad did the best he could and when he couldn't, the kids had to find their own way.
So, later in life, when she'd pray she was always troubled by nagging doubts as to whether God could answer her prayers. We had many long discussion and it took years for Uni -- and me -- to even recognize that she thought of God as she thought of her father.
He loved her deeply.
He also had others in the family whom he had to take care of, whom he loved deeply.
He had limited resources with which to respond to her needs.
The answers she heard to her prayers were not "yes" or "no" or even "wait a while." What she heard or thought she heard God telling her was "I love you and really want to help, but I'm just not able to right now." And so many times she did not bother to let God know her needs or desires just as she'd learned to not bother her father.
Yes, Uni knew the promises in the Bible. She had read them many times and could recite them from memory. But for years the lessons she'd learned in her youth superseded those in the Bible. She never doubted God's love -- she doubted His ability.
But gradually, over the years, I began to recognize a change in her attitude toward prayer and toward God.
It was those times, she told me, when God supplied a desire she hadn't even asked for (at least verbally). Especially, when we had left behind good-paying regular jobs and I had gone into the pastorate -- when our financial situation was approaching that of her youth. When she would just wish we had more money, or even cloth to make new clothes, or even (at one time) a ham. God would through friends or circumstances supply even these simple desires. He heard the prayers that she wouldn't even bother to ask.
Somewhere I read that God doesn't answer our prayers because of the greatness of our faith, but because of its smallness. I wouldn't be dogmatic about this one, but we've seen this happen frequently. It seems that often when we are not quite sure of God's desire or even His ability to answer, this is when He clearly does come through.
Like Dad Cook, God cares deeply about His own children and desires the best for them. But unlike Dad Cook and unlike me or any earthly father, God both loves His children and has the resources to supply all of our needs, and occasionally even some of our desires.
(P.S. Uni collaborated with me on this post. She supplied most of the thoughts while I simply supplied the words.)
"For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. So let us approach with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace for help at the time of need" (Hebrews 4:15, 16).