“In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord…”
The questions of motherhood poured out of her.
Lord, do you see me?
Could you change your mind on this one?
Is there something I could do differently?
Please, could you just let me have one baby boy?
She pours out her soul-breaking pleadings to the God of the Universe.
Eli, the priest, observes her.
This is not a day and age when pretense and sophistication are aborted for casual, unveiled expression. The behavior of a woman in public is especially guarded.
Not this woman.
The fear of man had fallen from her, as is often the case when we war for our children—those we have and those yet to be. The battles we don’t have the courage to fight for our own hearts, we rise up to fight for our babies.
Her mouth is moving but no sound comes out. The soundless words that spew from her spirit are thick with authority and angst. Distraught emotion distorts her expression. Tears flow shamelessly down her cheeks.
The man of God comes to a heartless but understandable conclusion: this woman has had too much wine. Sometimes people misread us when our hearts are hurting. It does not make them any less a tool of God in our lives. And Eli is about to be a tool in Hannah’s.
“How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine,” he wrongfully challenges.
Hannah asserts the truth of her circumstances. She’s drunk only with desire for a baby.
“I am pouring out my soul to the Lord,” she confesses.
And he sees. As clearly as he sees the wet tears on her face, he sees the guttural pleadings erupting from her anxious and vexed soul.
“Go in peace, and may the Lord grant you what you have asked of him,” he says, not even knowing her cause. He doesn’t need to. The sincerity of her pleading has been enough.
And the peace comes.
As I read the account of Hannah in the Bible earlier this year—my heart vexed and anxious with the things of life—I felt a prayer of my own leap out from within me. I wrote it in the margin of my Bible: “Lord make me drunk with prayer!”
It’s time to renounce our pretense and country club faith so we can pour out our souls to the Lord. It’s a risky way to pray, some will misread and even misunderstand the faith of a mother pouring out her soul breaking questions. But isn’t that kind of the point of prayer? Isn’t prayer the tool of an audaciously optimistic woman? One whose faith rises up above what her eyes tell her to be true? If prayer makes us anything, it should be radical. And peace-filled in the chaos of living.
I see steps in Hannah’s prayer process that took her from a mother (-to-be) who was anxious and soul-vexed to one who was at peace. Let’s learn to follow her trail.
Four-Steps To Finding Soul-Healing Answers
1.) Pour out the insecurities and complaints of your soul. I Samuel 1:15 reads that Hannah tells Eli, “I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord.” The original Hebrew word where we see pouring out was the verb sapak, which means “to shed, to spill, to be scattered.” Sounds like a messy business to me. This is not your neat and clean prayer list. It’s a spilling of the soul with no sense of where or when things may land.
Far too often, I have felt that my prayers needed to be contained to my devotion time or the words in my prayer journal. Specific prayers were often stuck in my gut because it didn’t seem my motives were pure or right. While I wanted to be a “prayer warrior”, my heart also yearned for the safety of a clean and neat prayer list.
But prayer is not a safe thing.
Last year I read a book that freed me to pray like Hannah. It was during a time when I was filled with many worries for all three of my children, and I thought the burden of it might just put me in a psych ward! (At least, the time off would be welcomed.) Each of my children was struggling in a unique way. I felt the heaviness of it to my core. To top it off, Bob and I hit a financial slump that added to the stress. And then a very specific $500 expense at my ministry jarred me like a speed bump when you’re driving sixty miles an hour. It wasn’t the biggest problem on my list, but the last one I could handle. It was on the day I hit that bump—still rubbing my head fresh from banging it against the ceiling of my anxiety— that I read these words in Prayer: Finding the Hearts True Home by Richard Foster:
“The truth of the matter is, we all come to prayer with a tangled mass of motives—altruistic and selfish, merciful and hateful, loving and bitter. Frankly, this side of eternity we will never unravel the good from the bad, the pure from the impure. But what I have come to see is that God is big enough to receive us with all our mixture.”
No sooner had I underlined those words, than prayer began to erupt out of my soul. My mouth brimming with the spilling and scattering of thoughts with not a care where they landed. It was not a pretty prayer. I barfed all the bottled up fears out onto my God. My mouth was making sound and it was mixed with humble pleading and prideful fury. Rooted in the new awareness that God was big enough to sort it out, I erupted and trusted my Father to receive me in all my mixture. The ending to my prayer was a doozy. There was no: “In The Name of Jesus, Amen.” Instead, I punctuated my prayer this way:
“And don’t you see that we can’t handle the added burden of this extra $500 problem? You own the cattle on a thousand hills. Couldn’t you just sell a few?”
I stopped. The audacity of that last question! But I wasn’t embarrassed or ashamed. I was just finished. Empty of questions. It’s possible that for the first time in my life I had truly “cast my cares upon him.” I can’t say why, but the next thing I did was to tromp out of the house slamming the door behind me, as if I was leaving God alone in the house to think about my blur of requests.
I visited the llamas and horses for a few minutes. (Did I mention that I live on a hobby farm?) Butted heads with the fainting goats. Hugged the dog. Sat in the sunshine. And then, decided I should go back in to face God like the grown woman that I was.
The moment I arrived back inside the house, my assistant Eileen texted me.
“Steph and Eloy felt led to send a gift: $5000. Thought you’d want to know.”
The timing of it! To the second.
It was as if God was saying, “ ‘Atta girl! Now that was some honest prayer.”
Put your journal down. Back away from your weekly prayer plan. Abort the prayer list. Those things have a time and place, but it’s time for you to start to pray like a woman drunk with prayer. Just “spill and scatter” the questions. God can sort them out, if we just pour them out.
2.) Give your children to the Lord. Hannah’s spilling out of her heart contains a promise: “…I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life…” Pouring out our anxieties and worries for our children is an incomplete act and becomes extraordinarily selfish if we do not include a steadfast commitment that they are first and foremost God’s, not ours.
This truth hit me squarely between the eyes in stupefied bewilderment a few years ago. I was speaking at the D6 Family Conference. My thesis: the best way we bid God’s kingdom to this earth is through protecting the covenant of marriage which is a picture of Christ and the Church, which requires us to rise up to protect family. I directly followed New York Times bestselling author and pastor David Platt whose Radical style punctuates sentences with explosive yet gentle phrases uncompromised by today’s “Christian spins on the American dream.” Platt’s thesis, based On Luke 14:26 went something like this as I remember it: “To follow the kingdom of God, you have to be willing to hate your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters.”
I felt sucker-punched. How was I going to drag myself up on that stage with notes that were completely contrary to his message?
But as I thought it through, I realized that our ideas were not drastically opposed. Like much of God’s truth, they fit together in paradoxical splendor. It’s OK to want great things for your family as long as they are not The Great Thing you hope for. We can bring to God all the rich dreams, and hopes, and plans for our children as long as we also bring him their hearts. Here’s how Platt said it that day:
“Our goal in parenting is not for our kids to get a great education, as great as that is. It’s not for them to be great athletes. Our goal is not for them to go on great dates and to find a great husband [or] wife. Our goal is not for them to have a great career where they have a great job making great money. Our goal is for them to love a great God.”
Then he said, “Tell them that God’s kingdom is infinitely more important than their family.”
Hannah was willing to say that and live it. She promised God that she would give her son fully back to him. And she did.
Am I willing to do that?
As we pour out our questions for God, we will also master the art of pouring out our conviction. He has entrusted us with his children. We must give them back to him.
3.) Tell someone. Hannah was not hiding in her prayer closet. She was, led by her husband, on a journey to worship and sacrifice. They were submitting to the communal act of worship, not staying home alone and hiding. This brought Hannah into a conversation with Eli, the priest. And that brought Eli into prayerful agreement with the pleadings of her soul.
At the 30th anniversary of Moms In Prayer International, the founder and dear friend Fern Nichols taught on the nature of prayer. She said that the majority of teaching on prayer in scripture is within the context of corporate prayer as opposed to private prayer. “When two or three are gathered, there I am in the midst of them…” Jesus said this is how we should pray: Our Father, who art in heaven. Not my father, but our father. We were not made to walk this Christian life alone, but in community.
We must be moms who pray together. We must drag our fears about vaccinations and our struggle over school choice to God together. We must bring our son’s learning disability and our daughter’s lack of kindness to God together. We must petition God for provision for a family missions trip and direction for college selection to God together. Trust me, if we can’t bring these things to God as a team, we will find ourselves in utter isolation and shame when a prodigal walks far from family and God.
But I understand, you want to be a good testimony. (Read with sarcasm, please.) You feel you need to walk as a leader through this life and can’t be seen as weak. There’s something in you that makes you different from others and your need for community. You’re an introvert? Ah, I see! I know. (It takes one to know one.) Yes, go ahead: hide in your prayer closet alone. Because the enemy is coming for your family, and he loves a good game of hide and seek because that’s the best place for him to find you alone and vulnerable! (Yes, you should still be reading with sarcasm.)
The enemy of our souls seeks to find us in isolation. It is there that he can weaken us, tempt us, and defeat us. It is there that he can pounce upon us like a lion seeking whom he can devour.
Dear sister, don’t walk alone. Not with your children at stake. Tell someone.
4.) Wait. Sometimes God says “yes” or “here’s $5000, Dannah, to show you that I heard you.” And he also sometimes says “no.” But most of the time, he seems to like to ask us to “wait.”
The Bible says that in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. It didn’t happen right away. The pouring out of her heart, giving her future to God, and talking to Eli did bring the immediate peace she so desperately needed to do the hard waiting, but the waiting was not circumnavigated. The only way to the bright faith-filled future is through the dark night of waiting. Oh, this can be the hardest part!
The good news is this: waiting is the act of anticipation. It’s not really a passive activity, but a pressing in with all your heart, mind and soul to catch a glimpse of God’s movement in your life. The action, like all actions, can end at any time. Abruptly. And move you into the act of vibrant worship!
As I write this to you, I’m waiting for a deep healing in my family. A long-awaited wholeness that years of counseling hasn’t seemed to bring…just yet. The dark night of waiting takes me through a thick forest of entanglement full of pits and miry bogs. I am praying and waiting my way through it, do all that God instructs to get to his sweet answer. A spiral bound deck of tattered index cards with Bible verses on them guide me through. (Have you ever realized that God’s word is a lamp to your feet. A lamp! Not a stadium light that enables you to see 360 feet. Nor a spotlight that let’s you see 30-40 feet. But a lamp. A small lamp that shows me where to put my feet for the next four or five paces. It is sufficient. It is enough.) The first verse in my deck is this one:
“I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.” Psalm 40:1-3
I don’t like the waiting. (And it’s hard for me to do it patiently.) But the fact is, praying prayers is like planting seeds. You have to wait. But the answers do come.
Let me show you how this four-step process can work moment-by-moment by telling you about an answer I got from God for one of my hard mom questions. This is a story about my Lexi as best as I remember it.
She was about 12-years-old and thoroughly enjoying a weekly pottery throwing class. Each week there was a new art display in the front gallery. We often enjoyed it, but this particular night my spirit recoiled when I saw what was there. A display of darkness. There was a burned out skeleton. A series of sculptures that were clearly Adam and Eve in salacious poses. And at the back of the display was a huge, antique Bible opened to a page in Revelation. Every word on the page had been blacked out with three exceptions. When you read the remaining three words it said: “God is dead.”
By the time I took it all in, Lexi was already smacking some clay down on her pottery wheel. I had no intention of leaving her in this place and would be making my opinion of the display very clear. I marched intentionally towards her with each clack of my heels sending a message of disdain, when suddenly the Lord tenderly stopped me. It was as if he illuminated how insecure, worried, possessive, and fearful I was about to be and just wanted to save my reputation. But I was perplexed. Certainly, the Lord didn’t want me to leave my baby here in this place. Or did he?
I decided to walk outside to my mini-van to count to ten.
I poured out all my fears and insecurities to the Lord. “Could she be influenced by this? What if she thinks that stuff is OK? The spiritual world is real, and that stuff can’t be inviting anything holy to linger. Will it impact her?” On and on I went just barfing out my fears to God and reasoning that he must want me to take her right out of there. And the big question: “Should I go get her right now?”
Then, I gave my child to Jesus. “Lord, she is yours.” Tears came when I prayed it. That’s also when the fear subsided and peace flooded me. And, a sense that the answer to my question was “No, don’t go get her. Pray.”
Then, I told someone. I called my mom and asked her to pray with me about what I should do next. She reminded me that Lexi belonged to Jesus and was sealed by the Holy Spirit and that my greatest weapon was prayer, not walking into that room and removing her.
Wait. I spent the rest of the hour prayer walking the block and waiting as the moments ticked by like hours.
When Lexi came out, she’d spun more than a pot that night. She’d left the head of an atheist teenage classmate and an agnostic teacher spinning with her insightful thoughts about heaven and hell.
“Mom, did you see all that bad stuff in there,” she began. “It brought up a great conversation about heaven and hell!”
My little girl wasn’t assaulted by the forces of hell that night. Rather, she was the one doing the assaulting in all her mighty twelve-year-old spunk. It was a great moment of spiritual breakthrough for her, as she discovered that relying on God’s Spirit enables her to think thoughts she didn’t know she had and stand up for Christ in the heat of the moment.
Soul-breaking questions don’t have simple answers. Nor the same answer for every mom who asks the same question. Soul-breaking questions require soul-healing answers and only one Source has those: God’s Spirit. If you do not have an ongoing conversation with the Holy Spirit about raising your children to be set apart in this corrupt culture, you will become a paranoid mother whose legalism doe not allow her children to face the giants God means for them to face. But if you enter into the conversation the anxiety and vexation invite you to participate in, they will become tools rather than terrors. Tools that lead you to the heart of God who has all the answers you need, sweet mother.
My new book, The 20 Hardest Questions Every Mom Faces: Praying Your Way To Realistic, Biblical Answers, is about giving you the tools to guide the conversation you have with the Holy Spirit. In each chapter, we’ll approach one of the 20 toughest questions a mom will ever face. I’ll share some insights about the question—stories, Bible verses, and even some data that helps you to know you’re not alone. But the power of this book is not in what I write. It’s in what you will write in these pages. At the end of each chapter, you will find four optional prayer prompts that guide you through the prayer process.
This is an excerpt of Chapter Two from The 20 Hardest Questions Every Mom Faces: Praying Your Way To Biblical Answers.