Getting in the Ring with God

Editor’s Note: Today we’re reading and/or listening to 1 Samuel 1:24-28 and Psalm 4 in our Believing God in Unwanted Circumstances series. We offer you this reflection on Hannah, the Old Testament woman we’re spending time learning from this week, with hopes that it will encourage you in the often long and emotional journey of submission to God’s good and perfect will.

By Brianna Hines

Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year… 1 Samuel 1:6-7

Year after year.

We can read these words in only a moment, but to Hannah, these words meant she endured years of a tortured soul, longing for motherhood. She had been caught in the ugly cycle of hoping, doubting, giving up, and then hoping again and again and again and again. 

Anyone who has longed for something over a period of time knows what this feels like. We dare to ask God for something desperately important to us and then hope against hope that He will answer our prayer. When it seems like God has forgotten us, or He is taking His sweet time answering, we feel defeated, depressed, or even angry as we imagine a life without the object of our longing. We play the manipulation game of “not wanting it anyway,” but we are kidding ourselves if we think we can ever forget about the thing our hearts are yearning for. Have you been there with me? What were you longing for? What unanswered prayer has tortured your soul and kept you from eating or sleeping?

For my older sister, just like Hannah, it was having children. The two of us have been close for many years. We went to the same college, got married two weeks apart, and have shared many of the same stages of life, except one. A couple of years into our marriages, both of us started trying to have babies, and I quickly got pregnant. But she didn’t. At first we both thought that it would just take her a few more months of trying, but those months turned into years. As I had my first, then second, then third child, my sister was left watching and agonizing and wrestling with God. Sometimes it was difficult for her to spend time with me because as much as she loved my kids, they reminded her of the motherhood she didn’t have and might never experience. For 10 years, my sister’s relationship with God was tested as she prayed and waited and dared to pray some more. She was in the ring with God, and at times, the wrestling was almost enough to break her.

Hannah’s faith was also tested for many years, and it seems as though she had reached a point in her suffering where she had nowhere else to turn but toward God. She hit rock bottom and poured out her soul before her Creator that night at the temple. “I am a woman who is deeply troubled…I was pouring out my soul to the Lord…I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief” (1 Samuel 1:15-16). She had been struggling for so long in an endless loop of longing and sorrow that she couldn’t struggle any longer. Hannah gave up control to God. 

Now, this wasn’t some manipulative formula of her praying a certain prayer and suddenly getting what she wanted from God. No. This was surrender. This was the deep sigh of peace after the struggle of control. This was Hannah letting God decide what was best for her, even if that never included children. This was Hannah choosing to love God more than any other thing in the world. Eli never promised God would give her what she wanted, but Hannah was a changed woman nonetheless as she left the temple. First Samuel 1:18-19 says, “Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast. Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the Lord.” Hannah’s wrestling had brought her a blessing she hadn’t been expecting — peace and closeness with God.

In college, I hit rock bottom in a wrestling match with God about marriage. I wanted to be married…yesterday! I had a plan for my life that God didn’t seem to be following, a plan that included a husband. I had dated before but always knew that those guys weren’t God’s choice for me. In the waiting, fear started to take over, and the idea of a lifetime of singleness was unbearable to me. I begged. I bargained. I berated God until one night, alone in my dorm room, I poured out my soul before my Creator. Never before had I been so honest with God as I sobbed, prostrate, on the stained carpet of that dorm room floor. I was done struggling. I was done fighting Him for control of my future. I surrendered. I had realized that even if God never gave me a spouse, I would have my best life if God was in charge of the plan. A life side by side with God was worth more to me than a husband.

The peace following that night was palpable. As I wept and waved my white flag, I felt closer to God than I ever have. Even though God did end up bringing me a husband, I still know that I am living the best life possible if I am where God has placed me, even if that place is in hardship or loss or eventually in singleness once again. God, not marriage, is the source of my peace. 

We know the same is true for Hannah because she followed through with her vow to God. Like Abraham with Issac, Hannah didn’t let this precious, waited-for child overpower her relationship with God. She gave her baby up. Hannah had learned that God’s plan is the only plan worth living, and she trusted Him with her future, even if it meant being childless once more. “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). That wrestling match with God forever changed her. 

My sister did eventually have a baby, and the day my sister called and told me she was pregnant, actually pregnant, I could not stop singing for joy to God! But the real miracle, more precious than that blessing in her arms, is her deepened relationship with the Lord. She knows the God that “giveth and taketh away,” and she can still say “Blessed be the name of the Lord” with or without a baby.

There is no formula for a wrestling match with God. There are a million things we could be struggling to let God have control of in our lives. It could be money, motherhood, marriage, an addiction, anything. If the thought of losing or never getting that thing is unbearable to us, we need to get in the ring with God, which will look different for each one of us. As Philippians 4:6-7 tells us: 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

It is not wrong to ask God for the things we want, but getting, or not getting, those things should never overshadow our submission to the God who gives them. True peace only comes after waving our white flag of submission to God and His good and perfect will. Even Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, begged God for a different plan than the cross. Beads of bloody sweat ran from His brow as He wrestled with God’s will, but after pouring His soul out in prayer to His Father, Jesus declared, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may Your will be done” (Matthew 26:42). God’s plan, however painful, is always better than our own. 

So, like Hannah, even if you have been wrestling with God in prayer year after year, stay in the ring! God longs for the closeness true honesty brings. Every time you pour your heart out to Him, He draws you ever nearer. God doesn’t want us to roll over and pretend we love every part of His plan. He already knows we don’t. It takes work with our Father to be able to say “Thy will be done” in honesty without a hint of bitterness or sarcasm. But the fruit of that work is peace, deep soul-quenching peace that cannot be bought with a thousand blessings. The peace that passes all understanding, with or without those things we think we need.