Praying When You Don’t Have Words
She said, ‘Let your maidservant find favor in your sight.’ So the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.” 1 Samuel 1:18
I just couldn’t stop crying.
As I lay in the bed next to my mother on her birthday, the tears simply wouldn’t stop flowing. As much as I had prayed for her, I felt the rising of a deep, foreboding fear that she wouldn’t be here much longer. But it was her birthday. So I let the tears fall silently and tried to keep them from being evident.
The deep undercurrent of worry and concern had become a companion as I went about my daily responsibilities, gladly joining my family in caring for my mother and her illness. I showed up as much as I could to be present, helpful and strong for her.
I prayed. We all prayed. A lot.
There were days I’d cried and prayed before, but this day was different. This day I had a realization that despite my best intentions, and regardless of all the energy expended, there was nothing else I could do.
The only thing left to do was silently pray. Sadness had stolen my words.
I think Hannah in the Bible felt this same way.
She had longed for a child, but was unable to bear one. Her grief was great. In 1 Samuel 1:8, Hannah’s husband Elkanah said, “… Hannah, why do you weep and why do you not eat and why is your heart sad?”. Hannah’s sadness had stolen her appetite.
Soon after, she visited the temple, and “greatly distressed, prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly” (v. 10). When Eli the priest noticed her, all he could see was a woman “speaking in her heart, only her lips were moving, but her voice was not heard” (v. 13b).
Hannah’s grief was so deep, she had no words.
I get that. Although the tears fell and my lips moved, I had no words. I wasn’t simply at a loss for words; I was struggling to pray. I knew the reality of my sadness precluded any words that would do my emotions justice.
So with plenty of tears, I continued to pray without words.
I asked God for my deep desire — more time — and then surrendered to my trust in Him, knowing the outcome of my prayers was in His hands and that despite my lack of words, He heard me.
My release that day brought me an unexplainable peace.
One prayer had already been answered: My mother had made it to her 70th birthday. My next prayer was for her to make it to Christmas — one more celebration of her favorite holiday.
She made it.
In fact, I remember her beautiful smile when I looked at her Christmas morning and wished her a merry one. Did I have other prayers? Absolutely. I would have loved for her to see the new year, the next anniversary, one more summer or another birthday. I didn’t get the answer I hoped for, but God had given me one desire.
While Hannah eventually bore children, I think it’s safe to say she would have loved the beginning of her story to have looked different. But God answered her one desire. And even then, Hannah later offered her firstborn back to God.
Although Hannah’s waiting was hard, she also experienced God’s peace. While at the temple, after pouring out her heart to God, Scripture tells us: “Her face was no longer sad” (v. 18b). I’m reminded that often the best gift of prayer is getting to know Him and His peace. We learn this by making our requests, patiently waiting for Him to answer and trusting His wisdom and heart for us.
The truth is, not every request will be answered exactly the way we want. My mother entered heaven a few weeks later.
However, I’m grateful I kept praying, and I’m still receiving the gift of His peace. Hannah’s story reminds me of this: We can still pray when we don’t have words. We can know His peace when we have to let go. And when we don’t have answers, God can hold our hearts as we learn to trust Him.
Dear God, help me keep coming to You in prayer, even when I don’t know what to say. Help me believe You can take the messages from my head and heart and translate them when I don’t have words. Help me have peace when I don’t have the answers to my prayers, and help me trust You to answer in the way You best see fit. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Do you ever struggle to find words when talking to God? Does that stop you from coming to Him? Why or why not?
Take a moment to pray right now. Simply let God know what’s happening in your life and what concerns you. He knows — but He wants to hear from you.
Philippians 4:6-7, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”