Two Ways to Pray for Your Children When Life Is Messy

“Joyful chaos!” That is what my daughter, Autumn, has dubbed my home this summer. I don’t mind. It’s pretty accurate. Amidst baby bottles, bibs, and burping rags, we’ve been planning her end-of-August wedding to a godly man she met in Taiwan. You see, Bob and I have also been hosting two premature twin granddaughters—Addie and Zoe—while their mom and dad get through the first few weeks of caring for them. 

It’s been a messy summer. But not just because of the tight schedule, dirty diapers, and long nights. There’s been some messy prayer, too. The reason I don’t mind the chaos is because this story could have looked very different. Autumn’s fiancé needed a difficult-to-get visa to be able to marry her. He got it and in time. And those sweet baby girls began with only a fifty-fifty shot at surviving, but now they are here, safe and sound.

There were days I ached with the pain of my pleadings and prayers to God, but I felt confident about how to pray because of a woman I met in the pages of 1 Samuel: Hannah. During a difficult season in her life, she poured out her soul-breaking pleadings to the God of the universe. And, it was real messy.

Eli, the priest, observed her.

This was a day and age of pretense and sophistication, not casual, unveiled expression. The behavior of a woman in public was especially guarded.

But not this woman’s.

The fear of man had fallen from her, as is often the case when we war for our children in prayer—those we have and those yet to be. Her mouth was moving, but no sound came out. She prayed that fervently! 

I see two things in Hannah’s prayer that took her from a mother-to-be who was anxious and soul-vexed to one who was at peace. 

She poured out the insecurities and complaints of her soul.

Hannah was honest with God. And that gives me—and you—permission to pray honestly when we’re living in the messy places of life. 

Her prayers were so honest, she looked like a mess. Eli the priest came to a heartless but understandable conclusion: this woman had had too much wine. 

“How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine,” he wrongfully challenged. 

Hannah asserted the truth of her circumstances. She was drunk only with desire for a baby. She told Eli, “I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD” (1 Sam. 1:15). The Hebrew word translated “pouring out” is the verb shaphak, which means “to shed, to spill, to be scattered.” Sounds like a messy business to me. This was not your neat and clean prayer list. It was a spilling of the soul with no sense of where or when things may land. 

Far too often, I have limited praying to my devotion time or to writing in my prayer journal. Specific prayers were often stuck in my gut because my motives didn’t seem quite right, not quite pure enough. I wanted to be a “prayer warrior,” but my heart also yearned for the safety of a neat and tidy prayer list.

But prayer is not necessarily a safe thing. Going before God with your soul truly naked is difficult, painful, and vulnerable. But it’s the only kind of communion with Him that is real.

Put your journal down. Back away from your weekly prayer plan. Abort the prayer list. Those things have a time and place, but it’s time for you to start to pray like a woman drunk with prayer. Just “spill and scatter” the questions. God can sort them out if we’ll just pour them out.

She gave her child to the Lord.

Hannah’s spilling out of her heart contained a promise: “I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life” (v. 11). Pouring out our anxieties and worries for our children is an incomplete act and becomes extraordinarily selfish if we do not include a steadfast commitment that they are first and foremost God’s, not ours. 

This truth hit me squarely between the eyes in stupefied bewilderment a few years ago. I was speaking at the D6 Family Conference. This was my thesis: the best way we bid God’s kingdom to this earth is by protecting the covenant of marriage, which is a picture of Christ and the Church, and this requires us to rise up to protect the family. I followed The New York Times bestselling author and pastor David Platt, whose radical style punctuates sentences with explosive, yet gentle phrases uncompromised by what he calls today’s “Christian spin on the American dream.” 

Platt’s thesis, based on Luke 14:26, went something like this as I remember it: to follow the kingdom of God, you have to be willing to hate your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters.

I felt sucker punched. How can I drag myself up on that stage with notes that are completely contrary to his message?

But as I thought it through, I realized that our ideas were not drastically opposed. Like much of God’s truth, they fit together in paradoxical splendor. It’s okay to want great things for your family as long as they are not the Great Thing you hope for. We can bring God all our rich dreams and hopes and plans for our children, as long as we also bring Him their hearts. Here’s how Platt said it that day:

Our goal in parenting is not for our kids to get a great education, as great as that is. It’s not for them to be great athletes. Our goal is not for them to go on great dates and to find a great husband [or] wife. Our goal is not for them to have a great career where they have a great job making great money. Our goal is for them to love a great God.1

Then he said, “Tell them that God’s kingdom is infinitely more important than their family.”

Hannah was willing to say that and live it. She promised God that she would give her son fully back to Him. And she did.

Am I willing to do that?

Are you?

These two things—pouring out and giving back—have gotten me through many a messy season of praying for my children. Even as I write this, I’m pouring out my soul for one of them with every keystroke. Later tonight, I will choose to trust the facts: He loves them and is wiser than I am. “Here, Lord! You can have this one again. I was holding on too tightly. You know what is best.”

That’s the path to peace for me as a mother.

It was for Hannah, too. As clearly as Eli saw the wet tears on her face, he saw the intensity of her faith and trust.

“Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him,” (v. 17) he says, not even knowing her cause. He didn’t need to. The sincerity of her pleading was enough.

And the peace came.

PS: Dannah’s also on today’s podcast, talking about how to embrace truth when your children are shaken. Take a listen and gain even more fuel for your prayers and faith!

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1 David Platt (vimeo streamed message), https://vimeo.com/43844792.

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About the Author

Dannah Gresh

Dannah Gresh

Dannah Gresh is the best-selling author, speaker, and founder of True Girl (formerly Secret Keeper Girl), America's most popular Christian tween event. She has authored over 20 books that have been translated into 12 languages, including And the Bride Wore White, and Lies Girls Believe. Considered one of the leading experts on the subjects of sexual theology and parenting tweens and teens, her resources have equipped over one million moms and leaders as they seek to raise their girls in confidence and Truth. She has appeared on CNN, Fox News, and the TEDx stage. She lives on a hobby farm in State College, Pennsylvania with her husband, Bob, and over 20 animals. 

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