Daddy, hold on to me

When one of my daughters was potty training, she had a fear of public restrooms.  The loud noises from the toilets flushing and super sonic hand driers were unsettling to her.  She also found the size of the toilets intimidating.  She must have been afraid of getting flushed because every single time she would say, “Mommy, hold on to me.” She’d say it multiple times, mentally preparing for the experience while we were walking to the restroom and saying it a few more times for safe measure once we reached the bathroom, just in case.  At home she had a little potty seat that fit on top of the regular seat, making it the perfect size to ensure her toddler sized self would stay safely perched above the basin. Without that security, faced with the daunting experience of using a public restroom she was always prompted to repeat her mantra, “Mommy, hold on to me.”

Most of the time this made me smile.  It’s cute, right?  “Mommy, hold on to me,” she’d say in her sweet little voice as she marched herself to the bathroom.  Sometimes, though, I admit I found it a little irritating.  I didn’t need her to remind me every time, she’d said it enough I knew the routine, and if you’ve ever had a toddler you know how tiresome their inclination toward repetition can be.  But there was no use trying to tell her she didn’t need to remind me.  She continued to every time.  

I began to realize my daughter was teaching me something about prayer.  We tire of asking God the same thing over and over.  As a parent, I get tired of hearing the same thing over and over.  Not so with God.  God is infinitely young and does not grow weary like we do.  As G. K. Chesterton says, “It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”  As a child does not tire in monotony or repetition, neither does God.

Why does God want us to bring our requests to him?  With my daughter, she didn’t really need to ask.  I already knew what she needed.  I already anticipated her fear and knew how I could ease it and was willing to do so.  I also knew she wouldn’t actually fall in the toilet, and I certainly wouldn’t have let harm come to her, yet I still held on to her just the same.  Why?  Simply put, because I love her.  I knew her fear was irrational and unwarranted, but when she looked at me with that sweet little face and reminded me to hold on to her, my heart filled with tenderness and I assured her I would most certainly hold on. It would have been of no use to assure her she need not worry about falling in.  I’m smarter than her and have a better understanding of how things work, but she didn’t need my rationale.  She just needed the security of feeling my hands around her, holding her up to ensure she didn’t fall.  God is infinitely more loving and gracious than I am, and also immeasurably more wise and powerful.  If my heart as a parent is inclined toward tenderness for my daughter, how much more so must God’s be towards us? What a secure feeling to imagine him holding me up with his sure and loving grip.

So back to the question, why does God want me to ask Him if he already knows?  Why does he want me to keep asking for the same thing over and over? Isn’t he smart enough to know what I need without asking? 

In the asking, it reveals my need for him.  As my daughter needs my help, so do I need the help of my Father.  The places of need in my life teach me to rely on him.  It also reveals where I should place my trust.  My daughter trusts me completely.  I never once let her get flushed (in case you were worried).  She continues to look to me in simple, sweet faith.  Trusting God to provide the things I need or talking to him about my fears reminds me that because God is who He is, I have nothing to fear.  That’s an important purpose that prayer serves, reminding…and boy do we need reminded (enter 2020).

Sometimes as adults it can feel like our own lives or the world around us (or both) are precariously close to getting flushed down the metaphorical toilet. Job loss, relationship issues, financial instability, health concerns, political unrest…while we may outgrow the fears of childhood, all that really happens is they are replaced with the fears brought on by adulthood.  In our minds they’re justifiable fears, based on real grown-up stuff. I imagine God looks at us the same way I looked at my daughter, a loving smile, knowing everything is going to be just fine and there’s nothing to fear, reaching down with his assuring arms. 

Let’s take a lesson from my 3-year-old daughter’s sweet, simple faith in my ability to keep her safe from falling and say to our heavenly Father in the face of our own fears, “Daddy, hold on to me.” And we can ask again and again, as many times as we need to.  Sometimes in the face of all the complexities of life that’s all we need, the simple reminder that he’s got us.

Everyone longs to be naked

I know the first reaction of many to the prior phrase is that it is mere “click bait”. 

It’s not. I literally mean, everyone longs to be naked. 

If we go back to the moment the world fell and sin washed over the earth, we see a very sad scene. A man and a woman suddenly awash with a new shame and desire to cover themselves and control what others can see. With the realization of their vulnerability also came this innate new instinct to protect and hide what they believed was fragile in themselves. They hid from God; they hid parts of themselves from each other. 

From this moment on humans have had two competing instincts. The first, a desire to be fully known, to put on display to someone who we really truly are, and second is the desire to “clothe” ourselves, to mask what we think makes us vulnerable. We love and hate all the “clothes” we put on. We struggle with our finances, body image, intellect, addictions and fears but “clothe” ourselves and hide away these things, working to show the world a false image. We both love that we can do this and hate that it makes us feel less connected. This is how one has hundreds or thousands of friends and feels very lonely. See, the true them actually has no friends. 


Even social media is a “layer of clothing.” It’s a way to hide the parts of us that are vulnerable and only expose or exaggerate what we feel confident will impress others. 

We both love and hate these “clothes.”

We love the “clothing” because it gives us control over how others see us. We equally hate it because we know that it keeps us from being fully known and prevents someone from being able to like us for who we truly are. We know to be fully loved at some point one must fully know us. We must be exposed. There is nothing more wonderful and terrifying than being seen as our true selves. 

This is the Gospel.  

Jesus sees us for who we truly are, even the parts we “clothe,” the parts of ourselves that we are embarrassed of, the parts we are afraid will drive everyone away. Jesus sees those and says, “I still choose you.” Christianity at its core is an intimate love story, one where the beloved is flawed and deep down knows it. Yet, the lover sees through the beloved’s “clothes” (our personal hyperboles) that we use to hide and paint a false image of ourselves. He sees the real us and still chooses us. The truest and most complete love comes from those who see us for who we truly are. 

Every part of the Christian maturation process is exposure. Prayer is exposure, accountability is exposure, Christian community is exposure, even scripture is meant to “expose” us.  Salvation itself is intimacy. 

I love the “naked” gospel, the intimacy, love, and purpose that real Christianity is. This year, I want to invite you into a relationship. I don’t want to write another apologetic aimed at convincing you of Christ intellectually. I want you to see the heart of Christianity – a glorious love story that God wants you to participate in. Real salvation isn’t first a mind game, it’s a love story. 

I believe God is raising up a generation of people who long for a faith that is more than mere mental gymnastics. They long for a forever family that has real love. Even as a doctoral student, my greatest spiritual hunger is in my heart.

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Image is The Fall of Man-1616-Hendrik Goltzius

To those facing hard situations. Don’t quit. We want to help.

Some of you are hurting because of poor decisions you have made.

Some of you are hurting because of decisions made by others.

Some of you are hurting because the natural world is wrought with sin and death.

In the last few months, we have watched families devastated because of the Coronavirus. Some by the economic impact, others by the disease itself, and still more because of the emotional strain of the lockdown. I personally know families that can’t pay bills because no money is coming in. I know others who have lost multiple loved ones to the disease. I know families that are filing for divorce because they can’t take it anymore. I even know of some students that are really struggling after months of being locked at home staring at a computer screen for school.

As a pastor, I get a front row seat to the pain people feel.

History is full of examples of deep suffering. You can read about Dr. Viktor Frankl in the concentration camps during World War 2, watching his friends die and personally experiencing torture himself. You can read the famous author C.S. Lewis write about the front-line brutality of World War 1. William Wilberforce, Richard Wurmbrand, and even John Foxe have written about unbelievable suffering. The Bible itself is full of pain. The famous story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den is a story that begins with deep suffering.

Daniel watched his nation turn from Godly principles.

Daniel watched his nation crumble.

Daniel most likely watched his family killed during a foreign invasion.

Daniel was abducted and enslaved.

Daniel had his identity stripped from him.

Daniel was sentenced to die in a den of hungry lions.

Daniel didn’t know the end of his story, and what he had experienced most likely led him to believe he would die by their claws and teeth.

All these stories have something else in common, something your story has as well. They aren’t finished. Yes, the enemy is working to kill, steal, and destroy (John 10:10) but God is gloriously good, and immeasurably loves you. Like the rest of the verse in John, we look not at the enemy or our current circumstances to determine our future outcome. We look to the nature of our Father.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. -John 10:10

The very places where it feels like Satan is dancing on your failures, faults, and struggles, God can turn those hardships into the greatest crescendo of victory in your life. Don’t measure your future state by the enemy or your current set of circumstances. Measure it by the nature of your Father. Your story isn’t done.

If you are really struggling, please reach out to us. Seriously, right now. Text this number and we will call you back. We would like to hear your story and pray with you: 231.215.9013

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Conflict = Intimacy?

The greatest thing that happened to my marriage was our first real fight.

I remember it like it was yesterday. As newlyweds we had just moved into in our brand new (to us) apartment. It was in that tiny slightly run down little apartment complex that many of our firsts happened. One of them being our first real fight. I mean, slam the door, don’t talk to me, you are the worst, kind of fights. While she sat in the bathroom crying and I sat on our bed I remember thinking… it might be over. We just started and it might be over! 

We survived the fight, actually looking back the fight opened the door to develop a new relational tool that has since caused us to thrive at a much deeper level. With the help of some counseling we learned how to have intimacy. I’m not talking about sexual intimacy, but how to speak in full transparency with honor. 

We learned how to fight right. Still to this day it is the places of conflict where we commit to be vulnerable and stay faithful to each other. To commit be fully known and to try to fully know the other all while choosing to stay committed. It feels really good to be in a relationship where you are fully known and still chosen. No masks, vulnerability and real intimacy in a bedrock of covenant. This speaks love (charity) at another level. One that only comes through learning how to do conflict well. These tools and truths aren’t only for marriage. They are for your church, your children and even things like real racial reconciliation. 

In the podcast below Todd Williams, Yamil Acevedo and I, three doctoral students working on three different terminal degrees from three different nationalities, wrestle with Conflict as a God given tool that can forge beautiful community. It is possible you are giving up on communities because of conflict, the very conflict that could bring intimacy.

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Breaking stubborn addictions and thought patterns.

Breaking stubborn addictions and thought patterns can be tough…really tough. 

Too many Christians have prayed for healing from an addiction or a negative thought pattern only to find themselves staring down their struggle time and time again. What do we do when we just can’t seem to find the freedom we desire? Has God rejected us? Are we unloved by God? What do you do when you don’t know what to do and everything you have tried isn’t working? Let’s ask these hard questions and grow together.

Week 1: We will unpack a word called metacognition. This is the capacity to “think about what you’re thinking about.” This second level thinking is a powerful tool in beginning the journey towards health. See the video for week 1, Christ Cares-Understanding Metacognition and the notes below.

Week 2: We look at metanoia. Retired college professor and professional counselor Dawn Marie Colaw talks about the beautiful overlap of modern cognitive neuroscience and spiritual formation. See the video for week 2, Set Free-Live Free and the notes below.

Week 3:  We will look at those long stubborn addictions and negative thought patterns. What do you do and what might actually be happening? Check out week 3, Hardship Does not Mean God has Rejected You and the notes below.

Week 4: The pursuit of holiness is often a moment of awareness and a commitment to walk a road of healing. What does that road look like? What does the continual pursuit of holiness look like? Check out week 4, It’s a Journey and the notes below.

Week 1 – Christ Cares – Understanding Metacognition: Mike Colaw

Week 1 Notes: Click Here

Week 2 – Set Free-Live Free: Dawn Colaw

Week 2 Notes: Click Here

Week 3 – Hardship Does not Mean God has Rejected You: Mike Colaw

Week 3 Notes: Click Here

Week 4 – It’s a Journey: Mike Colaw

Week 4 Notes: Click Here

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Why God isn’t giving you what your heart desires.

 

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Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

This would be a cruel verse if it was taken as many want to take it, that God is a type of limitlessly rich uncle that will give you what you want if you just buddy up to Him enough. 

Think about it in light of Psalm 16:4-5, “Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more. I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods or take up their names on my lips. Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure.”

Timothy Keller says it well.  Unlike ancient societies, “we may not believe in literal divine god-beings of beauty, wealth, pleasure, or fertility. But we must all live for something, and if we live and love anything more than God himself, we are trapped.

When we aim the deepest hungers in our hearts towards things that can run out, become lost, taken away, divorced, or even grow old we trap ourselves in the long run. It is to our harm to give our limitlessly hungry hearts to limited, expendable, or decaying things.  

God works to mature our desires before He fulfills them. 

The Psalms are not a picture of God giving a spoiled child whatever he or she wants if they would only suck up to Him. No, this is a maturing of the believer into the place where their desires align with God’s will. He literally gives us the right desires as we mature.  

Right desires are a much greater gift than mere perishable things. 

Moreover, I don’t believe God mutes or dulls our desires, I think God is always turning our desires up so high that only He can satisfy them. This isn’t to make us miserable; it’s to point the way to the true and limitless fountain. Can you see it? Over time the hunger for intimacy grows so high that no mere physical or sexual action in and of itself can fulfill it. Our desire for security grows so high that no walls or wealth can actually put our hearts at ease. Our desire to be known and loved grows so high that no amount of fame can satisfy. Lesser joys always leave us hungry for more. This is the gift of God, a growing desire for the fountain itself.  The truest of loves is “the only food the universe can grow on.”  -C.S. Lewis 

God will not give you the desires of your heart, no, He gives your heart right desires when you lean into Him. 

References: Timothy Keller, The Songs of Jesus, C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Want More?

Let’s take a methodical look at what pleasure actually is and how to find it.

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Reflections for Ringing in 2020

I love the feeling of a fresh start, a new beginning.  This is why I love the New Year holiday.  It feels like an opportunity to leave the old behind and embrace the new.  I love the beginning of each month, I even love Mondays!  The dawn of each morning reminds us daily of “the new” happening.  I think it’s God’s gift to us that the ability to start fresh is built right into the calendar, nature’s liturgy that continually reminds us of the opportunity for the new.  It’s like he’s inviting us to remember his promise, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:19).

As we enter a New Year it’s time for making resolutions.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not particularly great at keeping mine.  According to Forbes.com, apparently neither are most people:

“The statistics on how many people actually follow through and accomplish their New Year’s resolutions are rather grim. Studies have shown that less than 25% of people actually stay committed to their resolutions after just 30 days, and only 8% accomplish them.”

Some of you may know people who are part of the 8% who accomplish their resolutions.  You know, those people who don’t even really need to make New Year’s resolutions because they’re disciplined all of the time.  If they make a goal, they stick to it.  It’s quite admirable.  (And sometimes annoying because I wish I was more like that!)  But not all of us are this internally motivated.

Rather than becoming discouraged by my past or future failed resolutions, I’ve chosen to approach the New Year in a different way.  For me it is a reminder of God’s faithfulness, not the lack of my own.

 “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.”
Lamentations 3:22-23

The hope found in this verse is that we don’t have to wait a year for another fresh start.  His steadfast love for us NEVER ceases!!  His mercies are new EVERY morning!  What a wonderful promise.

Years ago we started a New Year’s Day family tradition with a prayer jar, a gift from my wonderful mother-in-law.  We write different things we want to see God do on little slips of paper, put them in the jar, and pray over it.  Then the next year we pull it back out and see how God has answered.  It’s been pretty amazing to see the ways God has answered prayers for our family over the years.  We keep the ones that are answered separate from the ones that we are still believing for.  They all go back in the jar as a way to remind us what God has done and what we are still waiting for him to do.  The words on the front of the jar from Ephesians 3:20 remind us to dream big and to never give up praying, “I can do more than you can imagine.  Love, God.”

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Let the New Year be a reminder of the God whose mercies never cease, who desires to do more than we could ask or imagine, and who made the sun to rise each day as a way to remind us of the infinite opportunities to start fresh.

It could be simple things, like missing your quiet time for several mornings in a row and knowing this morning is the day to start again.  Or perhaps you’ve started eating junk again after making a commitment to better health, or missed a few days or a whole week of making it to the gym.  Today is a new day.

It might be big things, like that struggle or addiction you’ve prayed for deliverance for, and maybe you were really on track and then slipped up.  Or maybe there’s a friend or family member who is far away from the Lord and you’ve been praying for them for years and it seems to make no difference and you want to give up.  His steadfast love never ceases…great is his faithfulness.

Let this new year, this new decade serve as a reminder to you that God is always in the business of doing a new thing, and that work of his is never complete.  The old has gone, and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).  The enthusiasm for our resolutions may wane, but his faithfulness and mercies never do.

Happy New Year!!

Being the mom I am, instead of the mom I wish I was

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a mom.  I played house as a girl, had cabbage patch dolls, and ALWAYS loved babies (still do), especially my younger cousins.  As I approached college and needed to choose a major, I began to pray about what God wanted me to do with my life.  In my heart began to grow an even stronger desire for motherhood, and I knew that was my number one calling.  I still went to college to pursue a degree in Psychology, but my sights were set on a stay-at-home mom life.

I couldn’t wait.  The women who mentored me as a young girl were stay-at-home moms, and I admired them so much.  They were amazing, loving moms and in my mind, it was gonna be a sweet life.

So, got married, we moved to Iowa, and my husband and I began our ministry.  I worked a few jobs to save money as we began this life together, but the baby fever eventually won out and we ended up pregnant with our first child.  Oh, I was so excited!  I couldn’t wait to be a mom!  It was all I really wanted to do with my life and I couldn’t wait to get started.

The day finally arrived.  I won’t go into detail, but the birth of our first child, our son Noah, was slightly traumatic.  He ended up being delivered by C-section after a long labor.  I wasn’t even conscious when he made his entrance into the world.  The first time I laid eyes on him, we were in the recovery room when I regained consciousness and looked to my right to see him cradled in his Daddy’s arms.  He was perfect.

But reality hit fast.  Recovering from a C-section was difficult and he had a bad case of jaundice.  Our hospital stay ended up being almost a week and I was more than ready to take him home, but things didn’t improve much.  I ended up in a really bad place, crying all the time, struggling with overwhelming feelings of despair.  After a visit to the doctor I realized I was struggling with post-partum depression.   And on top of that there were the usual challenges: sleepless nights, learning how to breastfeed, constantly changing diapers.

Here I was, finally living out my dream vocation, and it wasn’t at all what I thought it would be.  In many ways, that’s how I’d describe motherhood…not what I thought it would be.  And I think I speak for a lot of moms when I say that it wasn’t so much motherhood itself that was a disappointment.  I was disappointed with myself.

I wanted to be my ideal version of mom, but as is often true in life, ideal and actual don’t line up.

As a mom there are all these “shoulds.”  I should be completely thrilled to have these babies.  I should love spending every moment with them.  I should find joy in teaching them things.  I should be able to meet their every need.  I should be consistent.  I should be patient.

And then there are all the “shouldn’ts.”  I shouldn’t yell.  I shouldn’t let them watch TV.  I shouldn’t let them eat junk food.  I shouldn’t feel resentful.  I shouldn’t feel like this is boring and monotonous work.  I shouldn’t get them in trouble for just being kids.  I shouldn’t grow weary of their endless questions.

The truth is, it isn’t how I thought it would be.  I’M not the mom I thought I would be.  I thought I would love it so much more than I often do.  I didn’t know how exhausting and overwhelming it could be.

I wish that I loved having them cook in the kitchen with me.  But the truth is, I just want to get it done as quickly as possible.

I wish that I loved doing arts and crafts with them.  But the truth is, I’d rather not deal with the mess.

I wish that I loved cuddling in bed with them at night.  But the truth is, I usually just want to get them in bed so I can have some alone time.

I wish that I was easygoing and relaxed about things, but I get irritated a lot more often than I care to admit.

Slowly, I’m learning to accept myself as the mom that I am, not the mom I wish I was.  I’m not the home schooling, chicken raising, gardening, Pinterest-crafting mom that soaks up every moment with her kids and responds to all their childish mistakes with kindness and gentleness. (Does this type of mom exist?  The kind that joyfully “does it all”?  If you’re out there…you want to do some stuff for me?)

This is more the mom that I am…

I need alone time.  And if I give myself freedom to have it, I’m a better mom.

I love to read.  I always have.  So I read to my kids because that’s an activity we can enjoy together.  I love to read the books they’re reading so we can talk about it and share something together. (Not all of my kids love reading as much as I do, but I hold onto hope…and keep nagging a little.)

As my kids get older, I’m finding we have more things to talk about, and it’s fun developing friendships with them.  I’m a good listener and advice-giver and they come to me to talk about what’s bothering them.

I’m a woman who’s passionate about her relationship with the Lord, and while I am far from perfect, I certainly hope I am modeling for them a life that is defined by a love for God and his people.

I’m learning to embrace the mom I am instead of feeling disappointed in not being the mom I wish I was.  I’m learning to lean into my strengths instead of focus on my weaknesses.  The truth is, in spite of my failings, there is nothing I wouldn’t do for my kids.  I want their absolute best, and the fact that I sometimes fail them doesn’t diminish that.  I seek their forgiveness when I let them down, and in doing so teach them about humility, and they teach me about grace with their sweet, quick-to-forgive spirits.

I’m also learning to become a better version of the mom that I am.  I’m learning to relax about the mess in the kitchen because of the value of that time spent together.  I’m learning to push past my exhaustion late at night because those are opportune times for important conversations.  I’m even learning that it’s not worth it to get so irritated about little things like spilt milk and a coat on the floor instead of hanging on the hook where it belongs.  I’m learning that the best mom for my kids isn’t the ideal mom, but a better version of the mom they have.

There will probably always be moments and days where I wrestle with this disappointment with myself and this feeling that I don’t measure up to my own expectations.  But when my teenage son gives me a hug in the parking lot of the grocery store he works at for all the world to see, or when my daughter tells me I’m the “best mom ever” even though I lose my patience with her frequently…I guess if they love me as the mom I am, I don’t need to be the mom I wish I was.

Attracting and keeping young leaders in your organization. (And an idol that died in me.)

We have been so blessed at Trinity (http://www.encountertrinity.com) when it comes to staff. We have men, women, and even a little diversity. Could we do better? Absolutely yes. Yet, with all the areas modern organizations try to represent with their staff, there is one that seems to elude many of them: young leaders. Don’t hear me wrong. Young leaders take jobs, they just don’t stay, and often leave very unsatisfied.

In this video a couple of our amazing younger leaders talk:Attracting and keeping young leaders (1)
1)What are young leaders looking for? Heads up! It’s different than previous generations.
2)What are young leaders getting right?
3)What are young leaders getting wrong?
4)A word from them for colleges.
5)A word from them to their future bosses.
6)A word from them to their peers.

What had to die, and is still dying, in me?
As the head of the organization I had to lay before God my platform and take up a mission of building a foundation for the next generation.  I had to embrace legacy over fame.

Andy, Marcus – you all are awesome. Thanks for leading your generation well! I love that I get to work with you.

 

New Wine

Are you familiar with the story of Hannah in 1 Samuel chapter 1?  There’s not a lot about her in the Bible, just one chapter and a little bit of a second, but her story is one worth mentioning.

Hannah was a woman who desperately wanted a child.  In her time, as a woman, bearing children was everything.  And for whatever reason, she couldn’t.  Can you relate?  Any pressing desire in your heart, a hunger for something that will not cease, no matter how much you try to reason with yourself?

It’s a hard place to be when you have a deep persistent desire that doesn’t line up with your reality, and you don’t know if it ever will.

This must be how Hannah felt.  Her desire for a child was at the point of desperation.  To make Hannah’s situation worse, verse 6 tells us that her rival, the other wife to her husband Elkanah, provoked her greatly, harassing her over the fact that she had the ability to bear children and Hannah didn’t.  (Sounds like a sweetheart, doesn’t she?)  This happened until Hannah “wept and would not eat.”  Her husband, who loved her and actually favored her over his other wife (the mystery of why she’d provoke Hannah suddenly becomes less mysterious) says, “Why are you downhearted?  Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”  Have you been there?  When you are overwhelmed with heartache and people around you try to talk you out of it?  Doesn’t do much good does it?

Hannah went to the house of the Lord to pray.  Verse 10 says, “In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly.”  Oddly, I really like this part of the story.  It reminds me where I can take my deep anguish.  When it seems no one else understands or truly sees the depth of my heartache, God sees.  He listens, he knows my pain.  My bitter tears do not shock or unnerve him.  There is no better or capable place to bring my sorrow.

But sorrow is not the end of the story.

She continues praying to the Lord and the priest, Eli, happens upon her.  He actually mistakenly assumes she is drunk (again, another example of when people JUST don’t get it) and tells her to lay off the wine.  She tells him of her deep trouble, that she has been pouring out her soul to God.  He says to her, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”

This was good enough for her.  She goes away, eats something, and her face was no longer downcast.  She takes the word of the priest as a promise from God, and sure enough, Hannah ends up pregnant with Samuel, one of the great prophets of the Old Testament.

Something about her story really strikes me.  Verse 6 tells us that “the Lord had closed her womb.”  God closed her womb, prevented her from conceiving a child.  So essentially, God broke her heart.  Hard pill to swallow, isn’t it?  It seems so harsh and unfair.  Doesn’t seem like something a kind and loving God would do.  And yet we have to admit that is what it says, we have to accept the reality that sometimes the breaking and crushing of our heart is part of God’s journey for us.

Why doesn’t he just grant her heart’s desire?  And of course we ask, why doesn’t he grant ME my heart’s desire?  We know he can, so why doesn’t he?

When Hannah goes to the temple to pray, she tells God that if he will give her a son, she will give him back to God.   Because of her anguish, because of the low point she has been brought to, it drives her to God in complete surrender.

You hear that?  Her anguish, her heartbreak, drives her to God in complete surrender. 

She has been brought so low, her heartbreak so complete, she has nothing left but her faith in God.  In her emptiness, she turns to God in total trust.

It was the breaking and crushing that purified her heart and prepared her to be the vessel God needed to accomplish his purpose.  This is often what separates the faithful from those who turn away…a willingness to accept the task God has for them, however painful.  A choice to blame God in anger, or yield to him in complete trust.

God had closed her womb.  That’s how the story reads.  But as we will see, it wasn’t for nothing.  If God shuts us out from what our hearts most desire, it is for a greater purpose, and we will be able to look back and be glad, to see that it was worth it.  There is always a bigger picture.

We see the same with Job.  This guy gets one piece of bad news after another.  He lost it all – his livestock, his servants, his house, his children – and what did he come up with as far as how to make sense of it?  “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).  That’s it.  It doesn’t feel like much, but sometimes that’s all we have to hold onto…and it can be hard to hold on.

But what we see with these examples is the things that were developed in them.  Greater strength, perseverance, character, and faith.  The process of these things being developed is often apparently fairly unpleasant.  But from their stories, we hope and trust that it will be worth it.  “For the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).

Perhaps one of the hardest things is to do what Job did, praise the name of God in the face of complete loss.  But it must be done. Because it is our purpose and because he is worthy.  And perhaps if we worship him in the loss it will make our worship of him in the good times all that much sweeter.

We don’t know how long Hannah waited for God to give her the son she was waiting for.  The Bible simply says, “in due time Hannah conceived.”  In due time…isn’t that just like God?  But God kept good on his promise, and so did she.  When Samuel was born, she gave him back to God.  “I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him.  So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:27-28).

God had closed her womb…and he opened it when it was time, when she was ready to give all back to him, when she could fully recognize that all she had was never hers to begin with.

If it hadn’t been such a struggle for Hannah to have children, would she have recognized that Samuel belonged to the Lord?  If things hadn’t played out for her the way they did, would she have been willing to give her son back to God?

Samuel was instrumental in God’s story, and therefore I think so was Hannah’s heartbreak.

But heartbreak wasn’t the end of her story.  It was never meant to be.  She goes on to worship the Lord in chapter two, “My heart exults in the Lord, my horn is exalted in the Lord…The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn.”

She comes to a place where she recognizes her heartbreak, her season of barrenness as a gift, and it becomes an instrument for singing praise.  But it happened with a perspective shift, it came after complete surrender, and ultimately she stayed in that place of surrender, recognizing the gift of her child as something that belonged to the Lord before his conception.

Her heart exulted not in her son, but in the Lord…the only thing that brings true, lasting joy, that nothing and no one can take away.

In the pressing, crushing, breaking, and rending of the heart, God is producing something good.  We cannot usually see it in the midst of our suffering because our pain blocks all else from view.  And so we put our faith in a promise, in what is hoped for and not yet seen.  We trust that in all things, God’s vocation is redemption.  If God is who he says he is, our heartbreak points to hope.

“In the pressing, in the crushing, you are making new wine
In the soil I now surrender, you are breaking new ground
And so I yield to you and to your careful hand
When I trust you I don’t need to understand
Make me a vessel
Make me an offering
Make me whatever you want me to be
I came here with nothing
Than all you have given me
Jesus bring new wine out of me.”
(New Wine by Hillsong)