Dr. Leslie Parrott is a marriage and family therapist and author of several bestselling books for women, including Soul Friends and You Matter More Than You Think. She is also the co-author, with her husband Dr. Les Parrott, of several renowned marriage books, including Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts.
They are also cofounders of Lovology.org, a free site with hundreds of video answers to relationship questions. Leslie was a charter member of the Anchor board. You can find Leslie’s resources at LesandLeslie.com.
No matter how much we are loved by family and friends, moments come to each of us when those who most love us and whom we most love in return, reach the limits of their capacity and leave us feeling alone, invisible, and completely misunderstood. This can be surprisingly painful, especially when our feelings are not for the others’ lack of caring or concern.
First Samuel tells the story of childless Hannah, whose well-meaning and bewildered husband said to her, “Oh, Hannah, why are you crying? Why aren’t you eating? And why are you so upset? Am I not of more worth to you than ten sons?” (1 Samuel 1:8). We’ve all been there, in that moment, when loved ones minimize our distress because it threatens to overwhelm them with its largeness, and they can’t bear the load. They just want us to be okay but feel like we’re saying they are not good enough to make us happy. But we are hurting and cannot make that hurt go away. So — not wanting to be another’s source of pain — we must not only carry our distress but also bury it.
Hannah did this. As 1 Samuel 1 tells us, after weeping bitterly, Hannah pulled herself together and ate the family meal as a part of their shared worship experience. She did it and we do it too: pull ourselves together and share warm conversation even when we are troubled beyond words.
Pouring Out Our Heart in Prayer
But when she could, Hannah slipped away to the temple, and once safely alone, she placed her crushed soul into God’s hands. She poured her heart out in prayer. And so have you & I. You have laid out in prayer the unfulfilled desire of your deepest heart — the baby not conceived; the marriage not yet entered into or ended in crushing loss; the job you wanted but didn’t get to pursue because your time and attention was needed at home; the job you cannot leave because your family’s well-being depends on it; the diagnosis that you cannot accept. Maybe you stretched out prone on the floor in the privacy of your home, or took refuge in the safety of your shower as the waters poured down, disguising the sounds of your aching sobs. Or maybe you have entered into an empty sanctuary and knelt at the altar in solitude to pray.
Some prayers are visceral, coming from someplace beyond our mind. From the deepest chambers of our heart, they pass through our inmost being, rising like a lump in our throat. Sometimes we feel it so much that all sound is swallowed up within us and we can only move our lips, as Hannah did, when she knelt on the altar and poured her heart out to God. Her desperation for a child was so palpable, her silent prayers so filled with emotion, that Eli the priest mistakenly thought she was drunk. Some days we too are drunken with sorrow, our deepest longings welling up within us. Psalm 42 is a prayer for these very moments:
A white-tailed deer drinks from the creek;
I want to drink God,
Deep draughts of God.
I’m thirsty for God-alive.
I wonder, “Will I ever make it—
Arrive and drink in God’s presence?”
I’m on a diet of tears —
Tears for breakfast, tears for supper.
All day long
People knock at my door,
“Where is this God of yours?”
These are the things I go over and over,
Emptying out the pockets of my life.
There are days when we reach down deep and pull the pockets of our heart inside out and empty them. Its funny what we carry in our pockets. In an episode from that old classic Leave It To Beaver, the ever-present mom, June Cleaver, is pulling things from Beaver’s pockets before laundering his jeans. Ward Cleaver walks in and she points out the variety of curious items, including a dog tooth. When she asks Ward why in the world a boy would want to keep a dog tooth in his pocket, he thinks for a moment and then responds, “I don’t know, but I do know that I wouldn’t trust any boys who didn’t want to.”
I think God totally understands, and even delights in, the things we hold in the pockets of our hearts. And in doing so, he has great compassion for us when we turn them out. Memories and dreams, longings and desires. We carry these things around with us, saving them for the perfect time to pull them out and enjoy them. But often life doesn’t work out that way. Our treasures cannot be saved up. Moth and rust do destroy. Thieves break in and steal. Divorce is one thief; disease is another. Even the natural process of aging steals the treasures of our youth (as this menopausal mama can personally attest). War, natural disasters, political strife, and corruption all take their toll.
No one thinks for a moment that Hannah’s barren womb is her own fault. She is both lovely and loved. Yet the pockets of her heart are turned out, emptied. And she lives on a diet of tears. So she prays, thirsting for God-alive. She places her dream on the altar asking God for his answer. And without knowing how God will respond, she gets up from the altar with a lightened spirit, a restored appetite, and a radiant glow to her face.
She has emptied her pockets into the hands of God-alive and he is holding her treasures now.
When Hannah’s baby was born, she named him Samuel, meaning “God listened.” Samuel became one of Israel’s greatest judges, a priest and leader mentioned in the Hebrews 11 Hall of Faith. And it all started with Hannah’s empty-pocket prayer, when the only One she could depend on to know her hurt and hear her heart was God-alive.
God does that. He works your wounds and mine into a plan of redemption that reaches so far beyond us it becomes a part of the story he is writing in this world, a story that goes out from us to others in restoration and grace.
Adapted from Soulfriends: What Every Woman Needs to Grow in Her Faith (Zondervan 2014).