If you follow along with She Reads Truth’s studies, you know that the newest study is on 1 and 2 Samuel, centering on the life of King David. This is the first time I’ve studied David himself, so I’m excited to learn of his history and the background to his kingdom.
Before we get to David though, we have to get through Saul. And before him, Samuel. And before him, his mom, Hannah.
I’ve read and heard these stories in sermons or devotionals, but this is the first time I’m actually studying them intensely (even broke out my good study Bible!).
The first part of 1 Samuel 1 is all about Hannah’s desire yet inability to have a baby. Her husband, Elkanah and his other wife have babies, yet she hasn’t had any, and it’s breaking her heart. It doesn’t help that Peninnah, the other wife, keeps throwing her kid-less-ness (is that a word? it is now!) in her face, rubbing salt in an already-bleeding wound for poor Hannah. Frankly, I think Peninnah is the root of this whole “mommy-wars” culture where we bully other moms/parents for not parenting the “right” way– I fully expect Peninnah to eventually start bashing Hannah for weaning Samuel early or not baby-wearing.
OK probably not, but you get the picture.
Back to Hannah. So she’s with her husband and his other wife and kids in Shiloh, to worship and sacrifice and all that jazz. At one point after a meal, she decided to get up and pray.
My words don’t do the story justice:
Once after a sacrificial meal at Shiloh, Hannah got up and went to pray. Eli the priest was sitting at his customary place beside the entrance of the Tabernacle.10 Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord. 11 And she made this vow: “O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, if you will look upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a son, then I will give him back to you. He will be yours for his entire lifetime, and as a sign that he has been dedicated to the Lord, his hair will never be cut.”
12 As she was praying to the Lord, Eli watched her. 13 Seeing her lips moving but hearing no sound, he thought she had been drinking.14 “Must you come here drunk?” he demanded. “Throw away your wine!”
15 “Oh no, sir!” she replied. “I haven’t been drinking wine or anything stronger. But I am very discouraged, and I was pouring out my heart to the Lord. 16 Don’t think I am a wicked woman! For I have been praying out of great anguish and sorrow.” (1 Sam 1:9-16, NLT).
So Hannah ate. Then she pulled herself together, slipped away quietly, and entered the sanctuary. The priest Eli was on duty at the entrance to God’s Temple in the customary seat. Crushed in soul, Hannah prayed to God and cried and cried—inconsolably. Then she made a vow:
If you’ll take a good, hard look at my pain,
If you’ll quit neglecting me and go into action for me
By giving me a son,
I’ll give him completely, unreservedly to you.
I’ll set him apart for a life of holy discipline.
12-14 It so happened that as she continued in prayer before God, Eli was watching her closely. Hannah was praying in her heart, silently. Her lips moved, but no sound was heard. Eli jumped to the conclusion that she was drunk. He approached her and said, “You’re drunk! How long do you plan to keep this up? Sober up, woman!”
15-16 Hannah said, “Oh no, sir—please! I’m a woman hard used. I haven’t been drinking. Not a drop of wine or beer. The only thing I’ve been pouring out is my heart, pouring it out to God. Don’t for a minute think I’m a bad woman. It’s because I’m so desperately unhappy and in such pain that I’ve stayed here so long.” (Message version)
It was quite obvious that she was having a come-to-Jesus moment (if that was such a thing in the OT). She was distraught, at her wit’s end, and just over the whole situation.
Have you ever been that way? Lord knows I have. More than once… or ten times. But who’s counting?
She tried so hard. She longed so greatly. Despite the hurtful words slung at her, the pangs of jealousy, and her complete and total sadness, she carried on.
She could’ve taken matters into her own hands (a la Sarah and Abe). She could’ve gotten angry. She could have given up and resorted to a childless life (which was culturally frowned up at the time).
But she didn’t.
She took all her anguish, her sadness, her hurt, her anger– all the emotions stirring inside her– and she released them back to God. Despite her discouragement, she still looked towards God. She trusted that he was still in control and that he would listen to her pleas and cries.
With anguish and sorrow, she told God exactly how she was feeling.
She didn’t sugar coat it, but instead let herself feel the weight of her pain, and gave it up to God.
She poured out the contents of her heart, she left it all there at the altar for God to hear and do something with. She left her problems and her tears with him.
Reading Hannah’s story, I realized I don’t see a whole lot of me in her.
I see a lot of who I want to be.
I am an emotional person. I have been my whole life, sometimes to my detriment.
And yet, it’s hard for me to be personal or emotional when it comes to how I interact with God. Praying most often feels like a honey-do list or a one-sided conversation. (It’s hard for me to understand the concept of prayer as talking to God when I’m the only one in the room… but that’s another story for another day). I can write emotional things about what I’ve learned or what He’s doing, but I don’t typically feel the emotion or direct my feelings back to God.
It’s like the episode of Friends where Chandler couldn’t cry. No matter if it was a sad movie or uplifting book, or his dismal family situation, Chandler just couldn’t cry. He felt sad or upset but just didn’t know how to express it, nor did he want to. Unless you count the sarcasm and funny jabs he used to cover up his feelings as expressions of emotion.
Yes, I did just compare my faith life to a character on Friends. That’s just how I roll, people.
I just want to feel something, anything, when I’m talking to God. I want to connect to what I’m doing or what He’s doing or how I’m feeling about this or that, instead of feeling like I just use prayer and connection with God as a list of concerns or prayers for everyone but me.
With all the crazy going on in my life, I want to be able to just let it go and actually open up about it. I want to actually feel like I could admit how I really feel to God, but I don’t know how.
Even when I’ve felt emotional or upset about something, I don’t know how to talk to God about it. I just don’t get how to let myself feel these things when I come before him. I usually just list off needs and concerns and maybe about something I learned in scripture, but it’s honestly rare for me to try to actually use prayer as a place to be open and honest and real about myself.
When I feel these things– sad, anger, frustration, all the not fun emotions— I normally don’t run straight towards God. I avoid. I close myself off, I isolate myself from Him (and others, intentionally or not). I usually run to something to numb me instead– food, Netflix, mindless internet searches or social media scrolls. That’s where I find my comfort and peace in times of trial instead.
When I’m happy and things are going well, I’m good to go to God with thanks and joy. I can tell about my day and how I’m doing when I’m happy and feeling good. But when I feel anything but, it’s almost like I’m afraid to say so. I don’t know what He’s going to think or say if I’m anything but joyful.
And frankly, life hasn’t been all that joyful lately.
I think a lot of my struggles with having a relationship with God where I’m not afraid to cry out to God and give him everything is fear.
I’m afraid of what God will think of me when I’m upset about this or that (when He has it all planned out, I just don’t know about it yet).
I’m afraid I won’t be heard. Prayer confuses me sometimes (a lot of the time) because as much as I love being an introvert and not talking to people some days, I get frustrated not being able to see or hear or feel God with me. I’m afraid I’m just talking to the wall a lot of the time.
I’m afraid God’ll get tired of hearing me. I usually worry and fret about the same. things. (aka control) all the time, you’d think I’d have figured it out by now but I haven’t.
But I think my biggest fear is that God will see my mess and my life and just not accept me. He’ll run.
Plenty of others have. Why wouldn’t he?
I’m afraid to be honest with God. I’m afraid to let myself get real and cry out when I’m in the depths because I don’t want to be left there alone. I already feel alone enough these days. So I keep my life and my prayer focused on the happy positives and focus on praying for other people, in the hopes that I won’t lose him too.
I spent so much of my life thinking I had to come to God perfectly and shiny with my baggage hidden. I think there are times I still slip back into this notion, and my prayer life highlights that. I struggle to admit when I’m struggling; it’s easier to say I’m fine and just let all my feelings fester inside me. Instead of letting God into my mess, I run and avoid him until I think the mess is hidden enough that He’d want to spend time with me, or would want to listen to me. But that’s not a way to live, especially when scripture clearly shows us how much Jesus calls us to him just as we are, mess and baggage and all.
I think sometimes I slip back into the notion that God is another person I have to please, another person I have to earn love or praise from. I can’t bring him my bad stuff because it’s a mark against me. I can’t cry out to him when life is hard because that means I’m not grateful; or I can’t bring him my mess and my baggage because that means I’ve messed up, I’m not good enough for him.
I have to do it all, be it all, and go through it all with a smile, because otherwise, I’m not pleasing God. This is where I’ve spent so much of my life– faking fine and trying to do it all in the hopes that the real, broken me won’t be seen.
I can’t let myself be anything but the image I put out there.
So I instead feel completely disconnected–unattached to God and others, putting on a happy face and doing all the things to help people, instead of addressing my own needs and hurts and fears to God.
I call God my Father, but I treat him mostly like a wish-granting factory, or someone I’m conducting a transaction with. I don’t get intimacy and connection; I get work and to-do lists and longing to fix all the broken things around me, but not the broken things in me.
But I want more. I want God to be more than someone I’m trying to please with all my to-do’s and helping people.
I want a friendship for my lonely, isolated heart. A confidante I can be honest with in the serious and the silly, someone that will empathize and help me (even if it hurts).
I want a nurturer. Someone to take care of me. I take care of a lot of people, but never let people take care of me.
I want someone to listen. To remember. I have a knack for remembering even the minute details about a person. I know not everyone has this ability to love in this way, but I’d love to just be thought of sometimes (or be reminded that I’m being thought of).
I want to be noticed. I want to be known, to feel like I’m not just here floating along without purpose.
I’d love for God to be all these things for me. But I don’t know how.
I long to be connected to God in a way that I can feel like I’m known. Seen. Remembered. Acknowledged.
I long to be connected more than just to talk about the needs and prayer concerns or to-do list of things I’m listing off to you before I go to bed, like a business agenda.
I want more of a friendship with my Father instead of a contractual relationship, where I do this and that to be counted as “in.”
I don’t want to hide parts of me from Him for fear of being outcast or ignored. But I’m still afraid.
In the Message version of 1 Samuel 1, the title is “Hannah Pours Out Her Heart to God.” I want to do that. I want to feel comfortable enough that I can not just rattle off a list of concerns or tell God all the good things I did for Him today.
I want to feel like God is the mighty counselor and loving Father he says he is. I want to believe that he is the one I can vent to, pour my heart out to when I need it, be a confidante and holder of my hardest hurts.
I want to not live in fear of his judgment, but live in light of his friendship and love for me.
My friend Osheta Moore quoted a blog post of hers in her beautiful new book, Shalom Sistas:
“Being a Christian feels less like a to-do list of righteousness and more of a to-be posture of relationship. I want to be open to his feeding and present for his gathering. I want to be accepting of his gentle leading and willing to be carried.”
I want that. I don’t want to live like I can’t come to God for everything. I don’t want to live striving to check off my to-do list before I can come before him. I want to sit in the to-be posture and let Him be who he says he is to me, mess and sadness and all. I need to let him carry me, instead of insisting I can carry myself.
God tells us to come to Him if we’re weary, and he will give us rest.
Not come to him all shiny and perfect, and he will make us work. That’s not what he says at all, but it’s what I’ve believed.
We can come to Him for friendship and support, not for our chore list. I want to believe that.
I just need to learn how to connect to Him in this way, because pouring my heart out to God isn’t something I quite know how to do.
from the post:
“God longed to be my soul’s confidante. Deep where I felt lonely — where I struggled to receive and make space for me — God wanted me to rest as His beloved.”
Jesus. If that didn’t fit in the middle of my lonely mess, I don’t know what will.
God has a wicked sense of humor sometimes, and He really does know exactly how to meet us where we are. I’m starting to get it.
I want to know you, Lord, like I know a friend… that is my prayer.
From the head to the heart, you take me on a journey…