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DustyBooks
08-27-2010, 07:57 AM
It's a pretty real and unresolved issue in my own life, as well as being something one of my characters is struggling with. Sometimes I, and she, even feel like we're making matters worse. And sometimes it's our prayers in particular, while others right and left seem to be fantastically effective prayer warriors.

One part of me thinks that since I haven't resolved this myself, writing about it might a) help me resolve it and b) come off as less preachy than if it was just something I'd dealt with in the past. On the other hand, I really don't know how to deal with it in a novel. The obvious way would be to have a crisis or three resolved in a way that all the characters around the one doing the praying recognize as a direct answer to her prayers...but that's, well...obvious.

So, it's a multifaceted problem. Can anyone offer advice on the writing aspect, or recommend some books--either favorite books on prayer, or novels that have this as one of their themes?

CACTUSWENDY
08-27-2010, 08:42 AM
IMHO

This is only my experience and I am not trying to toot a horn or anything. I get an answer to each prayer I pray if I pray in the Holy Spirit. The Word tells me that for the most part I don't really know or understand how to pray for many things, but the Holy Spirit does. That's part of His job.

To apply this to real life....I have to first understand that I do not always know/understand what the bigger picture might be. An example might be me praying for a physical healing for someone when in reality what needs to be done is that they have a spiritual problem that needs to be taken care of first. Since God's ways are so much higher than mine it stands to reason that I might not have all the information necessary to receive the best.

I have seen some pretty wonderful answers to prayer and many times in the least expected ways. Do I sometimes feel like my prayers hit the ceiling and make it no farther? To that it would yes, but that is my fault.

IMHO when I go before God and humble myself and request His help He never fails to aid me in some way. It may not be what or how I think it should be, but in time.....it is/was the best way.

I know that all might sound like a cop out but it took me a long time to learn/get through my thick head that what and how His word tells us is how to do it.

As for your story MC....it will be hard to write until you can do it in real life....IMHO. As she struggles with it you may find it a real learning experience. I do wish you the best. (Sorry if any of this sounds preachy.)

semmie
08-28-2010, 04:34 AM
Can anyone offer advice on the writing aspect, or recommend some books--either favorite books on prayer, or novels that have this as one of their themes?
Hi Dusty,

Thanks for sharing this issue. I'm probably not the best person to answer your questions, but I wanted to respond anyway, as I struggle with unanswered prayer also.

My belief and practice about prayer and desires come from two passages of scripture. First:

If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself. This reminds me that no matter how I feel or how I am struggling, God is faithful. He is always faithful. It is His nature to be faithful. Doesn't mean He'll always do things my way, but it does mean that we can trust Him to open and close the right doors for us.

The second passage:

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
This shouldn't be taken to mean that we can simply expect God to do what we want Him to. Rather, I think we can trust that He will either fulfill or change our desires. Somehow, some way. Even in the case of Job, after it was all said and done and Job had lost everything...God didn't bring Job's family back to life; He gave Job a new family. Maybe sometimes God doesn't give us what we ask for because He wants to give us something new. I can't say for sure.

All I can say for sure is...I would love, love, love to read a Christian book where the main character faced the hard reality of having her prayers unanswered and her desires changed, and in the end--instead of cursing at God, she might finally see how He "makes all things beautiful in His time."

As a complete side note on the issue of feeling like God is oblivious to us...

Have you ever thought what it would be like to be a Palestinian Jew prior to the coming of Christ? I think, sometimes, God doesn't give what we ask for because we are asking for things that won't satisfy. Maybe we have to become so broken that our hearts are consumed with the frustration of it (like Hannah, who "wept bitterly"). Maybe it really is a broken and contrite heart that God loves.

God bless ya, Dusty--even if He does it in ways you aren't asking for.

JoNightshade
08-28-2010, 04:38 AM
I agree with what the other posters have said. Just to contribute my own experience, I think I've come to understand that when we pray, we must do so in God's will. It's not about getting anything we want, even when all we want is an answer. It's about aligning ourselves with His will, and accepting that whatever happens is exactly what he planned.

Don't forget that God is big enough to handle your pain and your confusion. He's fine with it. Don't feel like you're being faithless or a "bad" Christian because you are struggling with this. I think God loves it when we come to him and wrestle with the deepest, hardest issues - because it brings us closer to Him. Which, in so many cases, is the whole point.

DustyBooks
08-30-2010, 01:41 AM
Keep it coming!

A sometimes-troubling passage is Mark 11:22-24:

22"Have faith in God," Jesus answered. 23"I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. 24Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Emphasis mine.)

It seems natural that a long string of unanswered prayers would begin to wear down my (and my character's) faith, causing me to doubt whether my next prayer is going to be answered. It doesn't even necessarily take unanswered prayers, just major setbacks. It's hard to believe things will ever get better, when they're just getting worse, and where does my lack of faith leave me?

Then there are the prayers that do get answered, but in what seems like the worst/most painful possible way. Examples from my own life would get much too personal, but for this character, such a time is going to come about six chapters from now, as she prays for the safety of the man she loves as his ship sails off for battle. He does come back safe--but only because her best friend's fiancé stopped a bullet meant for him. (He'll live, but it's uncertain for a while...)

I had the events plotted out before I started thinking about the relationship between the events and my characters' prayers, and it really does have to happen that way...but I don't know how to handle that. I guess it comes down as much to the old "problem of suffering" as it does to prayer-related questions I have, but I don't want to approach that directly. It's one of those things that'll take over an entire novel if I let it. It happened before. Novel got trunked.

Calla Lily
08-30-2010, 02:40 AM
I generally keep private stuff, well, private, but...

The best example I have of how NOT to handle this is in the C!rcl3 of Destiny series by J!m and T3r! Kr@ us. I read all 4 of these books--I think I kept hoping they'd improve. I haven't drowned in that much syrup since the years I watched Barney with my kids. Even when the characters did something against their conscience, all they had to do was repent, pray and poof! God's voice (literally) said in their ear what they had to do.

Before you say that that's the correct progression :), it was the schmaltz, 2-D characters, and the formula of it all that turned me completely off. Commit sin in chapter 3, repent in chapter 9, everything ties up with a pretty bow in chapter 12.

Peretti, OTOH, does it without making me cringe. Piercing the Darkness, for example. When the ex-addict gets a clue, I never blinked once at the pretty spectacular result.

Anyway, to get off my ranty horse and summarize. IRL, my life crashed, burned, and went into the dumpster. I asked God "Why?" I got an answer 20 years later. Yeah. Twenty.

So--is it necessary that your characters see that a certain event is an answer to a certain prayer? Can the novel close with her still wondering why Person A's prayers effect miraculous change and hers still seem to plod along dutifully without expected fireworks?

However, if her fiance is alive because her friend's fiance sacrificed himself, that's an awesome abount of guilt for a character to struggle with. Is God a sadistic bastard who chose to answer her prayer with the death of a hero? Believing that could screw her up big-time. And her relationship with her friend. And her faith. Could the book end without a neatly tied up answer?

citymouse
08-30-2010, 02:46 AM
More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones. ~St Teresa of Avila.
St Teresa also said, Let nothing disturb you; Let nothing dismay you; All things pass; God never changes. Patience attains all that it strives for. He who has God finds he lacks nothing:God alone suffices.
C

DustyBooks
08-30-2010, 07:55 PM
callalily, the other guy doesn't die. It's a near thing, though. His sacrifice (and survival) were part of the plot from the beginning--before the FMC's friend whom he'll end up marrying even existed in my head. And it only occurred to me yesterday while I was writing that post that the FMC might have been praying for the MMC before it happened. Or, she might not be, given the other messes she's in at that point.

Maybe I should just not try to raise the prayer issue at all.

Citymouse, what's the context of the first quote there? Does she explain what she means? (I must have signed out my church library's one St. Teresa of Avila book at least four times now, but somehow I never get to read much of it, grr!)

citymouse
08-30-2010, 09:02 PM
Dusty, St Teresa's observation about answered vs unanswered prayers led me on a life long interest in prayer. Although I've looked for her meaning in her writings, which in themselves can absorb a lifetime of study, and I cannot find her definition spelled out. Teresa was speaking to the already converted and devout Spanish people. My guess is that they knew what she was talking about.
Personally I take her meaning to be, be careful what you pray for--you might get it! One may pray for a grand house for the wife and kids, and one may get it, along with a pink slip from the boss. With feet planted firmly on the ground, look up to God, always, always to God.
And that takes me to my personal conviction that the only prayer that I can feel free to utter is one of gratitude and praise. The others I have mumbled in my search have been come out of an unsure heart. I believe that the most difficult prayer is when we ask for nothing, and when wait with patience to receive all.

Pax et Bonum
C

DustyBooks
08-30-2010, 10:27 PM
I replied but it was somehow lost when I went to have lunch...

Personally I take her meaning to be, be careful what you pray for--you might get it!
I almost said the same thing in my second post in this thread. Out of the frying pan and into the fire. I've prayed for a job and got one I really didn't like before. I've prayed for friends not to go down a certain path, and they didn't, but almost everything else that could go wrong in their lives started going wrong instead.

And that takes me to my personal conviction that the only prayer that I can feel free to utter is one of gratitude and praise.
Yet there are numerous examples of petitionary prayer in Scripture, particularly in some of David's Psalms, and in the life of Christ.

citymouse
08-30-2010, 11:20 PM
My petitions have been answered. I have none left except this, grant that I may love You always, then do with me what You will.
C

cambridgemass
09-10-2010, 02:22 PM
God Bless you citymouse, may the lord Jesus watch over and guide you always.

Deb Kinnard
09-11-2010, 03:27 AM
I think, if you want to discuss the writing aspect of this, it's best not to have every last issue resolved for your character at the end of the book. I've read some secular writers who do this, and I think it makes for a more realistic character-journey then having everything neatly tied up in answered prayer.

My characters (and I) have gone through this. Sometimes God answers yes, sometimes no, and sometimes not now, My dear child -- I'm not finished growing you yet. It's been so, repeatedly, in my own life. Like others, sometimes the answers take years to make sense. And we're supposed to do it all in 75,000 words? Puh-leeze!

I think one rational approach is to have the major story questions tied up by the end, but leave one "open" question that still has your character struggling, that still has him praying, that still has him waiting on God and coping with the truth that this Lord we serve is sovereign.

DustyBooks
09-11-2010, 09:59 PM
That's pretty much how the externals of the ending looked even before I started thinking about this, Deb.

Can you recommend any novels that do it well?

Deb Kinnard
09-15-2010, 02:24 AM
One secular piece does it to perfection: Faye Robinson's COMING HOME TO YOU (yes, I know, lame title but terrific story). It came out some years ago, and unfortunately the author has since passed away, but it was a wonderful story told in a way I'd like all my stuff to be written. Not every issue the hero had was answered at the end. There was joy, yes, and the requisite happy-ever-after ending, but the fact that there was a little dark mixed in with the light -- well, it worked for me.

Kathleen Korbel's SOME MEN'S DREAMS is also masterfully written in that way. But the first that comes to my mind is Robinson's.

I wonder why we in C-fic are not as good at this light-and-dark-ending stuff as the general fiction authors? Worth discussing, methinks.

Jamesaritchie
09-15-2010, 03:10 AM
It's a pretty real and unresolved issue in my own life, as well as being something one of my characters is struggling with. Sometimes I, and she, even feel like we're making matters worse. And sometimes it's our prayers in particular, while others right and left seem to be fantastically effective prayer warriors.

One part of me thinks that since I haven't resolved this myself, writing about it might a) help me resolve it and b) come off as less preachy than if it was just something I'd dealt with in the past. On the other hand, I really don't know how to deal with it in a novel. The obvious way would be to have a crisis or three resolved in a way that all the characters around the one doing the praying recognize as a direct answer to her prayers...but that's, well...obvious.

So, it's a multifaceted problem. Can anyone offer advice on the writing aspect, or recommend some books--either favorite books on prayer, or novels that have this as one of their themes?

God isn't a genie that grants wishes. All prayers are answered. It's just that sometimes, like it or not, the answer is No! You just have to assume that God has His reasons for saying no.

DustyBooks
09-15-2010, 08:16 PM
I wonder why we in C-fic are not as good at this light-and-dark-ending stuff as the general fiction authors? Worth discussing, methinks.

I asked the same thing in a Christian writers' forum many years ago and someone got quite worked up at the mere possibility of an unhappy ending in a Christian novel, almost as if it was blasphemous. In real life, lots of people who are trusting God to protect or heal them die, but what (was this person's point) does it say about God if it happens that way in a novel?

James, we know that. The phrase is still used, because "no" and "wait" answers usually feel that way.

Calla Lily
09-15-2010, 10:13 PM
Asking this question of the writers here who write Christian fiction, that is, fic targeted at the CBA market:

Why is it expected that C-fic must tie it all up in a pretty, church-approved bow at the end? I've read several dozen C-fic books, from thriller to romance to SF. (Deb, I have not read yours.) All of them did it. Even books that had evil in them (Dekker, Peretti) used the pretty-bow ending.

Did this expectation grow out of Paul's comment about being all things to all people? That to be acceptable to new Christians, whose faith isn't as firm as older Christians, all C-fic must show God answering every prayer in the precise way that confirms the MCs' faith? And to do otherwise may plant a seed of doubt and must be avoided at all cost? I'm talking here about the old idea of "giving scandal."

I personally HATE endings that deliberately choose darkness when they could've been hopeful. Most postmodern fic I've read chooses this. I don't know why, but it seems to be an easy out to me. JMO. But bittersweet endings are common to RL--so why not in C-fic? The baby could die. The brother/sister/spouse could sleep around or become an addict and ditch the family. Aliens could take over the world. There are ways to make a hopeful book out of all this, without being all sweetness and light on the last page. IOW, the C-fic I've read appears contrived--almost obligated--to wrench itself into that pattern, or it isn't "good" C-fic and good luck getting it pubbed.

Why should the majority of C-fic have to pass the "will grandma be shocked" test?

Rant over. I'm really interested in your answers.

ishtar'sgate
09-16-2010, 09:04 AM
I believe that as God's children our prayers are always answered but the answer is not always the answer we want to hear. We predetermine what the answer should be and if what occurs doesn't line up with that we don't think God has answered. Many times I can see how perfect God's answer really was, but it took time to realize that although the answer did not line up with my expectation, the answer was the one I needed and in the end turned out to be in my best interests.

Perhaps your character could find that out too. They might pray for something, God answers another way than what they'd hoped but then later they realize God's answer was so much better than what they'd been hoping for.

DustyBooks
09-16-2010, 08:33 PM
Asking this question of the writers here who write Christian fiction, that is, fic targeted at the CBA market:

Why is it expected that C-fic must tie it all up in a pretty, church-approved bow at the end? I've read several dozen C-fic books, from thriller to romance to SF. (Deb, I have not read yours.) All of them did it. Even books that had evil in them (Dekker, Peretti) used the pretty-bow ending.

Did this expectation grow out of Paul's comment about being all things to all people? That to be acceptable to new Christians, whose faith isn't as firm as older Christians, all C-fic must show God answering every prayer in the precise way that confirms the MCs' faith? And to do otherwise may plant a seed of doubt and must be avoided at all cost? I'm talking here about the old idea of "giving scandal."

That probably has something to do with it, since the point of C-fic generally is to confirm the MCs' faith. I don't think it really has much to do with Paul's comment, though.

It might also be because of the predominance of romances among Christian novels. They might not be as clearly marked as a Steeple Hill or Love Inspired, but most C-fic novels are dominated by the romantic element. Not being category romance published by a specific line, no one's saying they HAVE to have a happy ending (really--last I checked, this was NOT in Bethany House's fiction guidelines!), but the unspoken expectation could be so strong that it just spreads to other kinds of books--although to be fair, I've read a few C-fic thrillers that did have a bittersweet note to their endings.

Or, it might be the belief, which has probably always been around but was most clearly expressed in the Victorian era, that to be moral, a novel must reward good behavior and punish bad. Of course, if the good guy has done wrong and is being punished for it, the novel usually isn't over yet.


I personally HATE endings that deliberately choose darkness when they could've been hopeful. Most postmodern fic I've read chooses this. I don't know why, but it seems to be an easy out to me. JMO. But bittersweet endings are common to RL--so why not in C-fic? The baby could die. The brother/sister/spouse could sleep around or become an addict and ditch the family. Aliens could take over the world. There are ways to make a hopeful book out of all this, without being all sweetness and light on the last page. IOW, the C-fic I've read appears contrived--almost obligated--to wrench itself into that pattern, or it isn't "good" C-fic and good luck getting it pubbed.
I totally agree on the dark endings. Fortunately I haven't come across too many of them, and when I have, they've been in the middle of a series anyway, and the next book has turned out better.

I do have a fairly bittersweet ending. For some of my characters (including one who's permanently maimed), it's enough that they got out alive. Some of them were successful in most of their objectives but don't get all the rewards that should have been coming to them for it.

I don't usually think of my WIP as CBA, though, just as a book for the secular market with subtle Christian themes. It sometimes crosses my mind that I could develop those themes further and make it CBA, but I'm not sure what purpose that would serve, really.


Why should the majority of C-fic have to pass the "will grandma be shocked" test?Because Grandmas are a large and sometimes quite vocal part of the C-fic audience, or so I've read in editors' blogs.

Now, really must stop editing this post. It's raining, but the dog must have his walkies.

DustyBooks
09-22-2010, 05:40 AM
I'd be really interested if anyone's got more input on the happy-endings thing.

citymouse
09-22-2010, 07:50 AM
Dusty Books wrote:"I don't usually think of my WIP as CBA, though, just as a book for the secular market with subtle Christian themes."

This is what I've done in my books. The themes of tested faith is one that runs throughout the three I've published. For example, in my last book my divorced MC (Jay) is presented with a 15yo son (Colin). The boy's mother died in a fire and Jay had no idea his wife was pregnant at the time of the split. Colin is just this side of hating his father and Jay is not so sure he likes this kid, son or not. The boy runs off and falls into the hands of murders. Jay takes off in hot pursuit unarmed except for his faith.
Here is how I wrote out part of the scene just before Jay rescues his son.

Half out of his mind with rage and fear for his son, he prayed from the psalm of David, Oh Lord, Thou hast seen my wrong. Judge now my cause.

After the rescue the story ends this way. [Colin] "You didn’t even have a knife. Weren’t you afraid?”
Jay thought of the statue of Archangel Michael and the inscription at the base: He shall give His angels charge over you to keep you in all your ways. Jay smiled and said, "Well, I had some help."

Dusty, I send the message in a way that I hope resonates through my character. Perhaps you can adopt this technique too. Heart felt, not too sappy. BTW some good people do get hurt in this story. Life is what it is.It's very late as I type this so I hope it's not too goofy
C

DustyBooks
09-22-2010, 10:50 PM
Sounds good. Has this been published?

Was that a direct quote from the Psalm? I've been a bit hesitant to include scripture quotes or even allusions because they often seem to be integrated rather poorly, but I did just quote part of Psalm 107 in the scene I'm working on now.

It's not too directly related to the situation, is not directly making a moral point, and is not "suddenly making a character feel better" (my mom's complaint about some Christian novels, which I didn't read myself.)

I should actually probably start another thread for the question I'm about to ask, I guess.

citymouse
09-23-2010, 12:01 AM
Sounds good. Has this been published?

Was that a direct quote from the Psalm? I've been a bit hesitant to include scripture quotes or even allusions because they often seem to be integrated rather poorly, but I did just quote part of Psalm 107 in the scene I'm working on now.

It's not too directly related to the situation, is not directly making a moral point, and is not "suddenly making a character feel better" (my mom's complaint about some Christian novels, which I didn't read myself.)

I should actually probably start another thread for the question I'm about to ask, I guess.
Yes. The part I cited here is toward the end of the third book in a series featuring the same MC. The first came out in 2004.
I guess I write my characters living life as I do. Working, relationships (good and not so good), shopping, and church going. Balance is what I shoot for.
C

Sakura-chan
09-23-2010, 01:59 PM
Going to your original post, Dusty, unanswered prayer is not an uncommon thing. First person who comes to mind is Paul, where he says (I think it's in 2 Corinthians 12) that he prayed for an ailment many times and God said to him "my grace is sufficient for thee." Sometimes, people have that "thorn in their flesh" for a reason, whether it's to draw them closer to God or to help them to remain closer to God. Then there's also the fact that our time is not necessarily God's time or that unanswered prayer really is an answer of no, this is not His will for your life. Sometimes the greatest gift is an unanswered prayer, as the songwriter says, which really sucks to hear :)