Can an Answer to Prayer be Wrong?

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Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about answers to prayers, especially answers that lead to difficult situations. Sometimes, we ask God to guide us in attending this school, or marrying this person and we get a “yes” answer. But then weeks, or months, or even years later, we find out that that wasn’t where we needed to be.

Why does God give one answer when it turns out it wasn’t the right one for us?

Personal Experience

When I got back from my mission, I started dating this guy. I felt happy, and I felt content with my life, and I was enjoying spending time with him. We talked about marriage, and next thing I know, I find myself engaged two and a half months later. I remember praying and fasting about if this man was the right one for me to marry and repeatedly, I felt a “yes” answer.

So I commenced planning a wedding and organizing my future life. Every time I would question if this were the right course of action, I would pray about it and receive, yet again, a “yes” answer.

And then everything went wrong. Things starting spiraling out of control and I found myself slipping, compromising my standards. It wasn’t until I thought about ending the engagement that I started to feel the Spirit again. So I ended it after two and a half months.

For the longest time, I was trying to figure out why, even though I had prayed about it and fasted about it, and received a “yes” answer, I ended up on the wrong path.

Truthfully, there are many reasons why God led me in that particular direction. And, even though it caused me and him and our families a lot of heartbreak, ultimately the Lord’s plan was much better than anything I could have dreamed of. And I learned that His answers to prayers always lead us back to Him.

Scripture Experiences

Illustration of Nephi writing on golden plates

We know that the Lord doesn’t make mistakes when we receive revelation.

Sometimes we question the Lord until He lets us go in the direction we want, as was the case with Joseph Smith and the 116 lost pages. Sometimes, however, the experiences we go through are simply experiences to test our faith and to help us know without a doubt that the Lord is with us.

Think of Nephi, who left Jerusalem with his father, according to the commandments of the Lord. But then, after they had left, and after they had made camp, the Lord instructed them to go back to Jerusalem to get the brass plates.

Couldn’t the Lord just have told them the first time to get the plates before they left? Yes, He could have done so. But I think of Nephi’s thesis statement he includes at the end of 1 Nephi 1:

“But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.”

Nephi couldn’t have known that the Lord would deliver him if that hadn’t been tested multiple times. Nephi’s faith was strong because he had taken the difficult route, trusted in the Lord, and God had seen him through.

moses parting red sea_answers

This is also true with other prophets in the scriptures. Think of the Israelites, who Moses went back to rescue from the Egyptians. God could have made the journey a lot easier, and sent just one plague that wiped out Egypt and freed the Israelites. But Moses and the Israelites had to learn to trust that the Lord would take care of them.

Even in this modern dispensation, we see how prophets are tested and tried and their faith proven again and again. And, again and again, prophets testify how God has seen them through.

It is not in God’s character to abandon His children. Even if the answers He gives us leads us down a difficult path filled with rocks, thorns, and heartache, He will never lead us astray. Ultimately, we will be stronger and know for ourselves that God has a plan for us.

“To do well does not mean everything will always turn out well. The key is to remember that faith and obedience are still the answers—even when things go wrong, perhaps especially when things go wrong.”

Elder David E Sorenson of the Seventy, “Faith is the Answer” May 2005

Agency

crossroads_choicesAnother aspect that impacts the answers we are given is the fact that we all have our agency.

In the Book of Mormon, we read:

“Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death”
2 Nephi 2:27

It’s easy to remember that the decisions we make influence others, like going to a particular school, or joining the church, etc. But I think we often forget that the opposite is true as well. Others may make choices that change the outcome of where we were originally going to go.

In the case of marriages especially, sometimes the Lord will give us a “yes answer” but, due to the decisions made of one party or both parties, that “yes” becomes a “no”. That doesn’t mean that the answer wasn’t right once upon a time. But due to circumstances, the Lord’s answer changed.

I once heard a quote from John Bytheway who said that the Lord will not steer a parked car. We have to be moving. But as we are moving, and we trust Him, He will never lead us astray. Even if that means that sometimes an answer changes.

Wrong Road Answers

I love the story Elder Holland shares about him and his son, Matt. They went to go and see the Colorado River along the Old Arizona Strip.  Elder Holland recalls how, when they were headed back, they came to a fork where they couldn’t remember which path to take. Both Elder Holland and Matt prayed about which way they should go and they both felt to go to the right. But after going down a ways, they came to a dead end. Elder Holland flipped the truck around and they went down the correct road to the left, eventually making it home.

Like Matt does in the video, I too have pondered why God would lead us down a seemingly wrong road after we’ve prayed for direction. I love Elder Holland’s response:

“I think that the Lord, His wish for us there and His answer to our prayer, was to get us on the right road as quickly as possible with some reassurance, with some understanding, that we were on the right road and that we didn’t have to worry about it. And, in this case, the easiest way to do that was to let us go 400 yards or 500 yards on the wrong road and very quickly know, without a doubt, that it was the wrong road, and therefore, with equal certainty, with equal conviction, that the other one was the right road.”

I think something we often forget is that the Lord sees all things from the end to the beginning. We cannot fully comprehend everything that the Lord can, nor can we see how it will all play out in the end. We are simply mortal beings who have to trust that He knows the right road. And if the road the Lord takes us down leads to a dead end, we have to trust that He knows the way. He’s asking us to take that leap of faith and surrender to His will.

Elder Holland continues, “I have absolute certain knowledge, perfect knowledge, that God loves us. He is good. He is our Father. And He expects us to pray and trust and be believing and not panic and not retreat and not jump ship when something doesn’t seem to be going just right.

“We stay in, we keep working. We keep believing. Keep trusting, following that same path. And we will live to fall in His arms and feel His embrace and hear Him say, ‘I told you it would be okay. I told you it would be alright.'”

elder holland quote_answers

Trust in the Lord

From my experience, I can’t say that I’ve reached the point where I’m grateful that I broke off my engagement. I still deal with the pain every single day. But I can say, with as much conviction as Elder Holland, that I know God will lead me, and each of us on the right path. He always answers our prayers, even if it’s not in the way we usually expect. His way is best.

But sometimes His way includes a learning curve detour, like with Joseph Smith and the 116 lost pages. Sometimes that includes going down a wrong road, like Elder Holland and his son learned. Heavenly Father is the ultimate parent. His answers will always lead us home to Him.

It truly brings home the scripture in Proverbs 3:

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”

Have you experienced any “wrong road” experiences? Share in the comments below!

KaTrina Weyerman is a writer for MormonHub. She currently studies English at Brigham Young University with an emphasis in Editing and plans on becoming a publisher upon graduation. She loves all things bookish and musical and is constantly found with her nose in a book.