Browsing The Northern Cross

Betsy Kneepkens: God’s answers to our prayers are sometimes mysterious

I find great satisfaction in intercessory prayer for those in need. Moreover, I appreciate the opportunity to share with others how those prayers got answered. I find particular value in using these moments of grace as a way to proclaim God’s continued work in the world. I feel more motivated to spread the Good News with those who have fallen away from the faith or those who have no faith at all.

I can give countless testimonies for what I believe are answers to prayers, which often seemed to be like little miracles.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

Every day, for well over five years, I have been praying for a brother-in-law who has struggled with substance abuse and general purposelessness. When I would occasionally see him, I would mention that he was in my daily prayers. He appeared startled each time, like it was unnecessary.

It does not appear that he was clinically depressed. Rather, I would say he was blinded by direction. He struggled throughout his life, beyond middle age, with on-and-off times of sobriety. He treated all people with dignity and genuinely avoided the judgment of others. I don’t know if I ever saw him angry.

His gifts were evident to everyone but him. He was incredibly handsome, a tremendous athlete, gardener, chef, musician, and magician. His purposelessness likely kept him from spending the time he should have with his sons, but no one would ever question the sincere, endearing love he had for his two boys.

He was raised Catholic, went to Catholic schools, and spent his childhood surrounded by the practice of his faith. Like many of his era, as he grew, he distanced himself from the religion that helped raise him. He got married outside the church, had two sons, later divorced, and it appears he did not see a need to practice his Catholic faith.

We had several conversations where I attempted to point him to all the greatness he was created for, how his many gifts could be used in service to others, how there is a plan for his life, and how perhaps regaining his relationship with Christ in the practice of his faith may help him see that purpose more clearly. I encouraged him to go to Mass, confession, and adoration. So many of us sought out treatment options for him, none of us being terribly successful. He always listened graciously but never seemed to hear.

He regularly said he was a believer in Christ but appeared to struggle with taking that next step, where you use the practice of faith to respond back to the Creator. It seemed that it was difficult for him to grasp that forming a relationship with God could breathe life into his purpose. These many hopes for him were part of what my daily intercessory prayers were requesting.

It was an early Saturday morning at the end of January that our phone rang. It was one of those rings where you knew something was not right. My husband answered, and I knew instantly there was a serious matter. I heard him say, “Where? … When? … How? … Was anyone else injured?” As he hung up the phone, I instinctively knew that something terrible had happened, and we both cried.

A beautifully created soul tragically died in a one-car accident, where excessive speed and alcohol were factors. Additionally, my brother-in-law was not wearing his seat belt. He left behind his two sons, who had lost their mother a few years earlier to cancer. These young men were in their early twenties and had already lived through more tragedy than most others.

This situation is unimaginable for most everyone, not to mention two young adults who were not fostered in faith. My heart ached. How does one manage losses like these without a faith foundation, a religious practice, or a connection with eternity? These young men’s initial thoughts were to do a simple cremation with their dad’s ashes sprinkled in various places around the country. This reaction made sense — that is what they knew, or rather what they didn’t know.

Honestly, I struggled. I earnestly prayed for this loved one daily. When given the opportunity, I tried to bring him the Good News and the beauty and the gifts of practicing his Catholic faith. I think I encouraged without pushing, trying hard to propose and not to impose. It seemed, particularly in his death, that nothing of my prayers for him was answered.

As time passed, my brother-in-law’s family was unsettled with our loved one’s resting. By the suggestion of one of his brothers, a memorial Mass was planned, and the two sons traveled across the country to be in attendance.

I had the benefit of sitting near my nephews. It did seem like the Mass was a bit out of their comfort zone, and they appeared somewhat confused by all the goings-on, from the prayers that everyone else knew and they did not to the different positions we worshiped in, from kneeling to sitting to standing, not to mention the respect and reverence we showed to what looked to them, I guess, like a little round disc. They knew the Mass was about their dad, but I am not sure they understood that the service was for the hope of their dad’s eternal rest at the feet of the One their dad believed in.

I wanted so much for this family member to be healed for himself, but more importantly to be restored on earth for his sons. But my prayers were not answered. I struggled with not understanding why his life did not turn out differently when so much prayer and so much support were offered. I know God has a plan, but sometimes it is so hard to see how his will works in his kingdom.

Or were my prayers answered? In a little act, a brief moment of time, a glimpse of light appeared. Right before one of my nephews left the church vestibule, he stopped at an area with Catholic information. He was glancing at the materials for a time and grabbed some information about Lent to take with him.

I have the privilege of thinking that perhaps the work and purpose of my brother-in-law was unaccomplished in his earthly life. Maybe what he did not have the will for here, he can orchestrate more clearly at the hands and sight of our Heavenly Father. Perhaps this loved one who struggled immensely on earth is at peace in eternity and using his extraordinary gifts in intercessory prayer for his sons that he loved so dearly.

I continue to pray daily for my brother-in-law and seek that eternal rest be granted to him and that the glory of his purpose is crystal clear now. Through God’s grace and perhaps through his plan, I am hopeful that the intercessory prayers of my brother-in-law will invite his sons to know our Heavenly Father on earth in a way their dad has now been granted through communion with the One he believed in.

Betsy Kneepkens is director of marriage and family life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.