Praying Like Hannah
I stood in my daughter's college dorm room, trying hard to be a brave mom. We'd just hauled computers, clothes, and crates to her room and her brother's on another floor. Both were starting their first year at a college four hours' drive from home.
I'd wanted to be like the Bible's Hannah, who praised God upon leaving her toddler son at the tabernacle. I didn't have toddlers—my children were 18 and 20. But the reality of the empty nest struck as my husband led us in a goodbye prayer. I stood there and sobbed.
Over the next few months, I couldn't quit thinking of Hannah. What gave her such composure? As I asked the Lord for insight, I discovered Hannah's story wasn't just about leaving her child. I saw a model for a woman's prayer life as Hannah went from "pressure prayers" to ones of permission, praise, and protection.
Hannah entered biblical history grieving her infertility. Though her husband loved her, she felt like a failure for bearing no children. Her sorrow increased yearly as the extended family, including his second wife who produced many children, traveled to Shiloh for religious celebrations. While everyone else enjoyed the festivals, Hannah wept and refused to eat. Her pressured prayers for a son consumed her year after year.
Yet God didn't answer Hannah right away. The Lord says His ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9), and "pressure prayers" for our own agendas may go against His timing and purpose. He planned for Hannah's child to be a national leader within a special timetable.
There were periods in my life when I focused on the negatives—in recollecting those times, I identify with Hannah. God blessed me with a college education, a job, and friends. But for years I grieved having no husband. Like Hannah, I tried to tell God what to do and when to do it—the sooner, the better. Yet He wisely delayed marriage and children until my late thirties. Certainly one reason was the unexpected death of my parents when I was 31, which left me with huge responsibilities. By the time a husband and children came, I'd learned pressure prayers usually result from an immature faith.
A vital shift occurred as Hannah prayed for a son. She called herself God's "maidservant," implying she saw herself as God's vessel instead of a deprived woman. Her prayer became "if you give me a son," not when. She gave God "permission" to leave her childless, but if He did send a son, she vowed to give him back to the Lord in lifelong service.
Essentially, her prayer acknowledged that God is all-wise and that she would yield to His wisdom. She adjusted her expectations. "Many plans are in a man's heart," says Proverbs 19:21, "but the counsel of the LORD will stand." God planned for Samuel to become a prophet and knew he would need a devoted, praying mother.
God worked on my capacity to pray "permission" prayers as my children faced problems in health or relationships. At first I "pressure-prayed" for God to take away my son's allergies. He loved outdoor sports like running but suffered physically throughout cross-country season. "Permis-sion prayers" aligned my thinking with God's use for this disappointment—to help my son strive for a personal best instead of winning first place, and to encourage other team members who lagged.
Similarly, when my daughter lost a close race for junior high vice president, I had to "permit" God to allow this defeat. Though I wanted her to be happy and win, I had to trust God to develop godly character amidst strong peer pressure. Five years later, at graduation, her loss was eclipsed when teachers voted her "Outstanding Senior Girl."
My hardest "permission" prayer came as we faced financing their college years on a teacher's pension. I prayed for a college where their faith would be nurtured. But God arranged for a secular university to offer generous scholarships, including one coveted full ride exceeding our annual pension. Permitting God to choose that campus meant allowing Him to plant my children where grass-roots Christian groups, not an administration, would lead their faith community.
Hannah's faith had its greatest expression after she placed Samuel's chubby little hand inside the wrinkled palm of Eli the priest. As this act fulfilled her vow of returning Samuel to God, her heart swelled with a magnificent song. First Samuel 2 praises God for His strength (v. 2), sovereignty (v. 3), justice (v. 4), wisdom and power (vv. 4-8), and protection. (vv. 9-10)
I wonder if she paused when she sang, "He keeps the feet of His godly ones" (v. 9). Whether or not she knew at that time of Eli's evil sons, Hannah praised God as able to employ Eli to guard, train, and use her child for His glory. Hannah's prayers helped build her son's spiritual fiber, seen years later in his statement to his nation: "Far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you" (1 Samuel 12:23).
Praise affirms what God wants to do. It invites His power into places we can't reach. "When we pray for our children," Stormie Omartian writes in For This Child I Prayed (Harvest, 2001), "we are asking God to make His presence a part of their lives and work powerfully in their behalf."
Praise helped me transform our family's 1996 nightmare of being hit by a drunk driver. As we healed physically and emotionally, praise centered on God for sparing us and for imprinting on my children the value of living for Him.
Hannah didn't cease praying after she left Samuel at Shiloh. Each year she sewed him a bigger robe, which she delivered during the annual sacrifice. Surely, while sewing, she prayed for the women workers watching after her son and for Eli's influence.
Daily mothering can prompt protective prayers. Jean Fleming, in A Mother's Heart (NavPress, 1996), said that when she fed her children, she prayed for God to nourish their souls; while giving them baths, she prayed for spiritual cleansing; and while dressing them, she asked that they would be clothed in righteousness. I remember sorting newly laundered socks while meditating on Psalm 1 and asking God to help my children resist walking in the counsel of the ungodly.
As my son and daughter packed for college, I found myself sewing prayers like Hannah while I made each a new patchwork bedspread. On my knees on the living room floor as I tied 800 fabric squares, I prayed against evils they would encounter at a secular college.
I also realized I'd prayed protectively since their conception and babyhood. Even when they were toddlers, bedtime prayers included petitions for their future life-mate. All along—besides lifting urgent concerns like exams, contests, or health—I'd petitioned the Lord for their godly character. They grew up knowing a mom who prayed, sometimes with eyes open while driving them to school!
My tears at that college goodbye didn't mean I failed to be like Hannah. Many of us lack her composure, but God knows our tender heart. When a mother prays, He hears her requests, her praises, and her willingness to give Him permission to answer those prayers in her children's best interest.
Yes, a mother's job is never done—when she prays like Hannah.