I have prayed for a husband since 2006, when I felt the Lord nudging me to do so. At the time, I thought it meant that marriage was coming sooner rather than later.
But now it’s later — eleven years later — and sooner is no longer an option. Most of the time, I’m content with being single, especially since it is all I’ve ever known. But at other times, loneliness, hopelessness, and lies of inadequacy hit like daggers straight to my heart. These are the times when singleness is a hard place of pain and deferred hope. But these are also the times when I’ve experienced the deepest intimacy with God.
Whether it’s unwanted singleness, financial crisis, a negative doctor’s report, marital infidelity, or a natural disaster, we all face hard places. As we navigate them, our intellectual understanding about God gives way to experience with Him, and truth becomes an intimate friend, rather than a lifeless doctrine.
It’s a beautiful process we also see in Scripture. As the heroes of our faith faced distressing circumstances, God revealed Himself to them in powerful, new ways.
Old Testament: Hagar
Hagar, a woman we first meet in Genesis 16, encountered God in a desert. She was the servant girl of Sarai, Abraham’s wife. Since Sarai’s body was too old (or so she thought) to bring forth the promised son that she and Abraham longed for, she decided to give Hagar to Abraham, hoping the promised son would come through her.
Hagar did indeed conceive a son, but he was not the son that God had promised. Now pregnant, Hagar looked on Sarai with contempt. In return, Sarai treated her servant harshly, and Hagar ran away. The angel of the Lord found her sitting by a spring of water in the wilderness, and instructed Hagar to go back and submit to Sarai. Then he spoke to her concerning the son growing in her womb.
After this meeting, Hagar called the Lord “You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees” and asked, “Have I also here seen Him who sees me?” (Genesis 16:13). It is the first and only time in Scripture where this name for God is mentioned, pointing to the intimate nature of her encounter. In Hagar’s place of pain, uncertainty, and sorrow, the Lord revealed Himself as the one whose eyes had never left her. Perhaps this revelation is what enabled her to go back and submit to an unjust mistress.
New Testament: Samaritan
This pattern of trial leading to revelation continues in the New Testament. John 4 details a beautiful exchange at a well between Jesus and a woman from Samaria. This woman had two strikes against her. First, she was a Samaritan, a people group the Jews viewed as inferior because of their mixed race and worship practices. The fact that Jesus approached her for a drink of water shattered the cultural norms of the day. The woman’s response to His request was shock: “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” (John 4:9).
Second, this woman had a shameful history with men, having been married five times and now living with a man who wasn’t her husband. She drew water at the sixth hour of day (noon), which suggests that she was avoiding other women who visited the well at an hour when the sun was more forgiving. Then she came face to face with Jesus, and He revealed that He was the long-awaited Messiah.
Jesus didn’t make a habit of announcing His Messianic identity, but He did it for her — this rejected Samaritan woman whose life had become littered with failed relationships. Her broken heart set the stage for her to receive an unparalleled revelation of Jesus’ true nature, and with this revelation, she immediately began to testify about Him (v. 28).
Helplessness. Heartbreak. For the people in Scripture, these hard places of pain and grief became gateways into a deeper understanding of God. He has not changed. He is still using the harshest circumstances of life to unveil the sweetest realities of His character.
Armed with this new perspective, we can endure our hard places with a new prayer on our lips: Lord, when all is said and done, I want to know you better than I did before. Open my eyes to see You more clearly. Take me deeper in You. When we stop seeking the comfort of relief, we can receive the greater blessing that God wants to give us: the intimacy of revelation.