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Unanswered Prayers and Mental Health

Posted: 08 Aug 2020, 09:44
by SilentDawning
As I've aged, I find myself asking for less and less from God. Part of the reason is the frustration I felt when I would pray to God for so many things that were never delivered. It felt like I was sucking air through a straw rather than drawing deeply from a well of refreshment when I would pray.

I have come to the conclusion that continued prayer for things that never happen over years and decades is not really a good thing for mental health. It creates this feeling of futility and aloneness and emptiness.

Much better to be thankful than to constantly be holding out faith that something will be granted when God has no intention of granting that thing.

Lately I have been praying for something. I have decided to pray for the item until a specific date. I have told God that I will exercise faith that the thing will come to pass until that date, after which I will assume the thing I am requesting has been denied. I will then focus on coping with the prayer being unanswered if the date passes and the blessing not granted.

I find this helps me feel a little more in control of my destiny and definitely helps me feel better mentally, even though it means I might not get the thing I'm focusing on.

What do you think of this approach. Do you think unanswered prayers can actually hurt your mental health, inner peace, and faith. Is it worthwhile to set a timeline during which you will be prayerfully and faithfully seeking the blessing, after which time you will assume the answer is "no" if the blessing is not granted?

Re: Unanswered Prayers and Mental Health

Posted: 08 Aug 2020, 13:16
by Arrakeen
I think when praying with the expectation that something will actually occur, it sets you up for disappointment when it doesn't happen. This was basically the start of my faith crisis. I spent two years battling mental health issues as a missionary, holding out hope that my prayers would be answered and things would somehow get better, allowing me to have a successful mission. And of course the expectation that God would help me out if I just had enough faith drove my depression deeper and deeper as it became clear that no help was coming. Another major problem with unanswered prayers is that it's easy to believe that it's your fault, thinking perhaps prayers go unanswered because you're not worthy enough, faithful enough, or diligent enough. This mindset can be really detrimental for mental health.

I've noticed a pattern in which prayers I have had answered in the past. It seems like the ones that get answered are always things that I have some degree of control over. For example, I pray for help in doing well on exams. I then study hard, and end up doing well. When I pray for things I have no control over, I seem to never get an answer. This makes me wonder if maybe prayer is more useful as a way to focus our hopes and desires and motivate us to action than it is as a way to solicit divine intervention.

Re: Unanswered Prayers and Mental Health

Posted: 08 Aug 2020, 14:40
by nibbler
Arrakeen wrote:
08 Aug 2020, 13:16
Another major problem with unanswered prayers is that it's easy to believe that it's your fault, thinking perhaps prayers go unanswered because you're not worthy enough, faithful enough, or diligent enough. This mindset can be really detrimental for mental health.
We'll receive blessings if we're more worthy.
We'll experience success with missionary work if we're more obedient.
We'll receive personal revelation if we're more obedient.

I heard some variant of that nearly every Sunday (when Sunday meetings were a thing). Those teachings are often amplified during a mission. It's baked into the bedrock.

I've seen some members that are unphased, maybe they don't internalize, I don't know, but they're somehow unaffected. I've seen other members where the obsession is internalized and it slowly chips away at self esteem.

I see it when someone believes they didn't get the answer to a question because god doesn't think they're worthy. Or the new wrapper we've put the same teaching in, didn't get the answer to a question because god doesn't think they've qualified to receive it.

I see it when someone gives their testimony at the podium where they are both relieved and stressed because of the new calling they've received. Relieved because it's small evidence of finally acquiring god's approval. Stressed because they believe they're not worthy enough to succeed in the the new calling.

How much it can affect mental health can depend on the questions asked during prayer. Consider what it would feel like after prolonged silence to each of these scenarios:
Which of these two colleges that I got accepted into should I attend?
Should I serve a mission?
Should I quit my job and go back to school?
Do you (god) forgive me?
A person trapped in an abusive situation that is seeking escape.

Re: Unanswered Prayers and Mental Health

Posted: 08 Aug 2020, 14:50
by nibbler
SilentDawning wrote:
08 Aug 2020, 09:44
Is it worthwhile to set a timeline during which you will be prayerfully and faithfully seeking the blessing, after which time you will assume the answer is "no" if the blessing is not granted?
I'm reminded of Clayton Christensen's article Seven Lessons on Sharing the Gospel, the section titled "Deadlines." The context is more to prevent procrastination on our part, but there's also the story where Christensen did his best, couldn't find someone interested in his message, but relied on god to provide once the deadline arrived.

If you're going to take that approach, I'd suggest phrasing questions in a way where you want "no" to be the default answer. I say that because there are many people out there that feel as though they've never received an answer to their prayers. Even the people that do feel like they get answers to their prayers probably experience contemplative silence most of the the time. A definitive answer is likely the exception rather than the norm. If you go in with setting deadlines, phrase the question so that you'll be happy if the answer is "no"... but if you're able to do that, I think you've already got your answer.

Re: Unanswered Prayers and Mental Health

Posted: 09 Aug 2020, 06:15
by LookingHard
SilentDawning wrote:
08 Aug 2020, 09:44
As I've aged, I find myself asking for less and less from God. Part of the reason is the frustration I felt when I would pray to God for so many things that were never delivered. It felt like I was sucking air through a straw rather than drawing deeply from a well of refreshment when I would pray.

I have come to the conclusion that continued prayer for things that never happen over years and decades is not really a good thing for mental health. It creates this feeling of futility and aloneness and emptiness.
...
Amen on that. Same here.

Re: Unanswered Prayers and Mental Health

Posted: 10 Aug 2020, 10:43
by Roy
My wife tells me that I tend to justify myself. I suppose that is true. If I see a choice between self flagellation and self congratulation, I will take the congratulation every time.

As has been mentioned earlier, part of feeling like your prayers are being answered is asking in the right way.

Instead of asking, "Which of these two colleges should I attend?" Try, "I have decided to attend university A, please send me a signal/stupor of thought of this decision is wrong."
Instead of asking, "Should I serve a mission?" Try, "I am scared to serve a mission. Please help me to be brave."
Instead of asking, "Should I quit me job and go back to school?" Try, "I am scared to quit my job and retrain in a new field but I feel that it is the best choice. Please help me to be brave and/or please give me a sign/stupor of thought if I am wrong."
Instead of asking, "Do you forgive me?" Try, "Thank you for forgiving me" (or even "thank you for accepting me with all my faults").

The last example of someone trapped in an abusive relationship is harder. They could still say something like "I have decided to leave my abusive partner but I am scared. Please help me to be brave." However, I believe the example illustrates that this technique is easier to implement for individuals that are having most of their needs met. If a person does not have basic necessities like food or water then they cannot simply thank God for blessing them with food or water (and if someone does not have the necessities of life it can be hard to think of and be thankful for anything else).

My sense of ego tends to make these sort of positive assumptions in my prayers naturally. That may be harder for some individuals to implement.

Re: Unanswered Prayers and Mental Health

Posted: 13 Aug 2020, 10:30
by DarkJedi
My personal opinion is that answers to prayer - or lack thereof - as taught by "the church" has done immeasurable damage to the mental health (and spiritual health) of many, many members.