Howard Thurman (11/18/1889–4/10/1981) has been heralded for his pioneer work in race relations and his role as a spiritual advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As the first black dean at a white university and as cofounder of the first interracially pastored church in the United States, this prolific minister, mystic, and theologian offered messages of hope and transformation to those open to change and activism.
The Patience of Unanswered Prayers
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayers is a line of the familiar hymn. It opens up before the mind the wide intensity of unfulfilled hopes, broken dreams and anguished denials. Who is there that has not carried at a central place in his concerns the persistent hunger, sometimes dull and quiet, sometimes feverish and angry, for something that has not come to pass. The hunger moves in the background of the days like the rumble of distant thunder or the far off roar of the sea. Sometimes it is so close that all of life seems summarized in its urgency and its denial, the denial of life itself.
The general overtones of anguish created by the unfulfilled need often send the soul searching for some clue, some key to unlock the door of the treasure house. All sorts of things are tried. Often there is the searching of one's own way of life to see if in the intricacies of the personal behavior pattern may not stand revealed the reason for the unmet need. Often there is the subtle intimation of some weakness in the character that takes no overt form but turns up as limitations in understand or blind spots in perception. Often there is the sure knowledge that one has been hurt, crippled by the actions of others and no can was exercised in the healing process, with the result that growth was out of line and twisted. But despite all of the meaning of all of the possible clues, the persistent hunger works away deep within. It remains unfulfilled and unmet.
Slowly it may dawn upon the spirit that there is a special ministry of unfulfilledment. It may be that the persistent hunger is an Angel of Light, carrying out a particular assignment in life. With the coming of this possibility into consideration, slowly, tensions are relaxed and the center of emphasis is shifted from the hunger itself to what it has meant to deal with it through all the years. Slowly at first, the words are shaped and the pattern of them shows itself. At last, a man may say, I know now that there is present in my life a quality that is only mine because the hunger is mine. Thus, at last, I come to the door and seek entrance where is gathered the great community. I know the password: Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer."