Brooks explained in The Garth Brooks Story that this song about encountering what was once the girl of your dreams many years later is based on a true story. Said the singer: "'Unanswered Prayers' was a big part of my heart that went out on that record. A true life thing that happened to Sandy (his wife at the time) and myself. In October of '89, I saw my old high school flame. And I can say this now at the time I couldn't. For the first two years of my married life, I really thought the girl that was for me was still that girl that was in high school. And now man just the realization that what you have is the best for you, and the best you could ever do in your lifetime. It sure makes you sleep well at night."
Brooks said of this song in the liner notes to his 1994 collection The Hits: "Every time I sing this song it teaches me the same lesson. Happiness isn't about getting what you want, it's wanting what you've got."
Brooks wrote this song along with Pat Alger and Larry Bastian. Alger, who recorded his own version and included it as the closing track on his 1994 album, Seeds
, told us: "Both Garth and I, there's a pretty good age difference between us, I think about 14 years. But we seem to have similar experiences in our youthful lives that we called on several times in songs, and this was the first one where we had a similar experience. His happened at a football game; mine was similar, but just didn't happen at a football game. I ran into my old high school girlfriend about 10 years after the fact and was quite pleased with the way things had turned out. And that's really the essence of the song, you wish for things and then sometimes you're really glad the Lord wasn't listening. Or, as they say, he was listening and decided not to play ball with you for whatever reason." (Here's our full Pat Alger interview
A two-hour Lifetime TV movie inspired by this song aired in 2010. The film centers on a man (Eric Close) happily married to his wife (Samantha Mathis) but who must make a tough choice when his high school crush (Madchen Amick) comes to town.
Brooks explained to The Boot
that the only part of this song that is untrue is the location. Said Garth: "That's what happened to me, word for word, except it wasn't at a hometown football game, it was at a Kraft's fair bazaar that was a fundraiser for rehabilitated 18-year-old boys that had been out of prison but back to get their GED, and that's what this little ranch was. It was hard to make that fit in the song."
Pat Alger says the message in this song is "kind of a Protestant concept." He adds, "You're supposed to use that lesson to relate to the rest of your future life. That's the point of it. That's the sermon, I guess you'd say. Over the years, I've talked to a lot of pastors who've used that as a jumping off place for a sermon."
This song made it's live debut the same day it was written. Garth Brooks performed at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville that evening, and invited Alger to come along and play on the song. Said Alger: "Usually, I like to live with the song for a little while and tweak it up and there's always some lyric that needs a little tightening and a melody line that needs tweaking. But we decided to go down and do it that night at the Bluebird. And right after the chorus, everybody started applauding. So I guess we had a little bit of a validation there."
From a technical perspective, this is an unusual song: the chorus repeats just twice, and it goes to the bridge before the second chorus is repeated. Alger explains: "If I have to repeat the chorus more than 2 or 3 times in a song, I feel like I haven't written a very good song. So this was especially the parsimonious use of the chorus. So we only used it twice. And one of the reasons was we thought in a sense it's a joke. In fact, early, before it was recorded, I would play it out, people always laughed at the first chorus. Chuckled, not guffawed. But they chuckled in the sense that you recognize yourself in the picture, kind of chuckle. So I always thought if you have something like that, you can't just repeat it ad infinitum. Obviously the joke will go stale. So I thought, for whatever brilliant reason, we only repeated it twice. And it retrospect, it also sounds like I'm proclaiming that I was a genius and had that idea at the time, but I think we only realized it after the fact that that's what we'd done. That's an interesting thing to pay attention to."