When Relationships Collide, Session 6: How Long, O Lord?

By Shirley G. Williams

“LORD, how long will You forget me? Forever?” 

(Ps. 13:1) 

howlongolordThis is the Psalmist’s cry, born of seemingly relentless trial.

Many parents have been there. In our case, our son was swept away by the world’s offers for instant gratification. My husband and I stood by helplessly as his life, full of such potential, was squandered and impoverished.

Where does one turn through years of waiting for God to answer our prayers? To neighbors? To our Christian friends? To our pastor?

I turned to Scripture. There I found godly parents facing the same problem. Adam and Eve raised a murderer. Even the good kings of the Old Testament raised bad sons. Did these parents cry out their “how longs” to the Lord as well?

In Isaiah 1:2, I discovered the Lord Himself said, “I have raised children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against Me.” He voiced our cry, “How long?” When Israel ignored God’s Word, He asked, “How long, foolish ones, will you love ignorance? How long will you mockers enjoy mocking and you fools hate knowledge?” (Prov. 1:22).

Each of my four children is listed on my prayer sheet. For 54 years, my son’s name headed the list and was daily brought before the Lord. With increasing anguish, 36 of those years covered his wanderings until we lost all meaningful contact with him.

Then one cold January night, I received a call. My son was in intensive care in a hospital 130 miles north of my home.

My heart raced. He must have wanted me to know! He gave my name! I drove to the hospital.

I approached his bedside, alone. My husband had gone to be with the Lord. The years had taken their toll. Will he know me? I wondered.

My son was hemmed in with IV lines, monitors beeping, and oxygen wheezing its rhythmic role. I stroked his arm. “It’s me, son.Your mother. I’m glad you called. I want to pray for you, OK?”

I began to pray.

“I want to pray!” he burst in. “I want to go to heaven! I want to see Daddy!” On and on this grown man prayed and sobbed. I could not understand much, except, “I don’t want to live like this!”

Nurses interrupted, but before I left I promised, “When you are discharged from the hospital, I want you to come home to gain your strength.”

How long? Was 36 years too long to trust God? Is it our right to demand instant answers to our prayers? Wasn’t it God Himself who said “Dear friends, don’t let this one thing escape you: With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:8-9).

Today my son lives nearby. He has renounced his former life. I see no hint of his returning to it. As soon as he was able, he responded to the invitation at church, expressing his desire to return to the Lord. He prizes his crisp, new Bible and is faithful in his daily devotions. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17).

What have I learned from our years crying, “How long?”

I have learned God delights in our prayers (Prov. 15:8). As I pray morning, noon, and night, I can be assured He hears my voice (Ps. 55:17). I can have hope, I can learn to be patient, I can rejoice, and I must continue praying (Rom. 12:12).

When I pray, I am not to worry about outcomes. Instead, I must trust my Heavenly Father. Only then will I experience God’s unique peace (Phil. 4:7). Yes, I can even dare to thank God in advance for answered prayer (1 Thess. 5:18).

I waited 36 years; but what is that in God’s timing? He heard my prayers; He did not hide His face from me; He was aware of my daily suffering. He also knew I had to learn patience and complete trust. My son had lessons to learn that only he could learn.

God was there all the time. He was just waiting for us to get on board His schedule.

Shirley G. Williams and her family from Unionville, Mo., served the Lord as missionaries in West Africa and were church planters in New England. Shirley delights in sharing unique episodes they were privileged to enjoy along the way. 

maturelivingThis article originally appeared in the May 2011 issue of Mature Living. To subscribe, click here or on the magazine cover.  


  1. Brenda Coker says:

    This is a wonderful article. There have been many times when I asked God nearly the same question, “How long before you answer, or at least answer in a way I can understand and if it is “no” and I have to accept it, help me to know how to accept it” . This article in my Sunday school book, was probably meant just for me. Thank you that I could find the entire article online.

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