Suffering in silence

I love it when you are reading the Bible and you have an ‘aha’ moment, when you feel like you have happened upon a diamond in the dust that no-one else has as yet uncovered.

I recently had such a moment, reading about Hagar in Genesis 16.  So here’s the story. Hagar, servant girl, of Sarai, is the Ophelia of the piece: while all the drama and attention are focused on Abram and Sarai, she is quietly suffering the consequences of their bad decisions.  Sarai has lost hope that she will have a child, and so she offers Hagar to Abram as a second wife, as a means of providing him with an heir.  As soon as Hagar gets pregnant, not surprisingly, there is enmity between Sarai and Hagar. Hagar ‘despises’ Sarai (Gen 16:4, perhaps jealous of Sarai for being Abram’s first wife and love).  Sarai in turn, also probably envious of Hagar’s new status as the provider of the long-awaited heir, ‘mistreats’ Hagar (Gen 16:5). It gets so bad that Hagar can’t take it any more and she runs away.

Now, you may have noticed some bias in my telling, but I can’t help but feel a little bit sorry for Hagar at this point. In school plays I never won the big parts; I was ‘Girl in chorus number 3’.  I was always on the outskirts; defiantly alternative, and yet simultaneously envious of those who seem to have all the action and attention centring around them. This may well be projection on my part, but Hagar seems to me to be representative of those who feel ‘left out’ of God’s plans, someone who is just on the periphery while all the exciting things seem to be happening to everyone else.   She can glimpse her own happy ending – happily married to Abram, bringing up their child together – but knows that it will be forever out of her reach.

As a servant, a woman, a foreigner, she has no status, no rights. She is someone who suffers without any chance of recourse, without an advocate or someone to fight her corner. When Abram has to choose between Sarai and Hagar, he tells Sarai she can do what she wants with Hagar, “your slave is in your hands” (Gen 16:5).  She is representative of all those who suffer silently, behind closed doors. She is patron saint of the invisibles.

So where is God in this? With all these exciting plans and promises for Abram and Sarai, what space is there for someone like Hagar?

To answer this we need to go to the next part of the story.  Hagar runs away to the desert  – and comes face to face with the angel of the LORD. (It is worth noting that the first appearance in the Bible of the angel of the LORD is to Hagar: a woman, a slave, an Egyptian foreigner. God notices those in society whom we ignore or devalue.)

God gives her a blessing and a command. The blessing sounds very like the one just given to Abram, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count” (Gen 16:10). The command is to go back to Sarai and submit to her (16:9).

In one sense, not much has changed. God sends Hagar right back into the same situation that was causing her so much pain and suffering.  But in another sense, everything has changed. Why?

It’s because God says to her, “the LORD has heard of your misery.” (16:11). After all that long suffering, it is pure relief to have someone acknowledging it. She responds, “You are the God who sees me”.  I find that one sentence incredibly beautiful and profound.

She thought that no-one had noticed her suffering; but God had seen, God had heard.  There are times when I battle with that sense of being forgotten.  There have been times in the past year where I have felt almost completely helpless to the illness; and invisible, as everyone else got on with their lives. There are times where I have that same sense of desperation to be taken out of my situation.

In times of great suffering it is immensely precious to be able to say, “You are the God who sees me”.

Over to you:

  • Have you ever felt like you could ‘glimpse your own happy ending’, but it was out of your grasp?
  • Who are those in your life, perhaps on the periphery, who may be suffering alone?
  • How do you respond to the God who ‘sees you’? Do you see it as a comfort?

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15 Responses to Suffering in silence

  1. lulu 20th January, 2015 at 5:29 pm #

    Thanks for your reply tanya its always nice to know someone’s listening. Its just very frustrating to be in the fog and its very lonely because I can’t see the people around me the fog is that dense. I’m pretty sure being 13 is sucky enough without depression I’m just such an over achiever I had to take that extra step! I am actually an over achiever n I stress quite a lot to the point of throwing up. I feel sorry for Hagar because I know what its like to feel over looked but I’m also jealous of her because God sent his angel to her to tell her she wasn’t over looked but I still believe God doesn’t see me. Is it wrong to be jealous of her because of that? I do believe God was there for me at some stage but I also believe at one time or another he got busy with everyone else and forgot I was here because at that time I didn’t need him but now I do n I don’t know where he is for me. One of my favorite songs is “Just Be Held” by Casting Crowns if you haven’t heard it you really should listen to it. The two verses describe me and my life perfectly.

  2. lulu 18th January, 2015 at 3:55 pm #

    Hi I’m 13 and this website was recommended to me by my youth group leader. I suffer from depression n my parents r divorced. I suffered silently for about 7 years n then my youth group leader noticed something was wrong I now see a psychiatrist n text my youth group leader I still feel like God doesn’t notice my suffering n I’ve been a Christian for 3 years. I gave up praying quite a while ago cause it hurt too much to feel like God was ignoring me at the minute I’m holding on to my worship music but it just feels like God’s over looked me.

    • Tanya 20th January, 2015 at 4:39 pm #

      Hi Lulu. I’m so glad you got in touch, and that you found my website. I’m really sorry to hear that things are so hard for you right now. Depression can feel like a complete nightmare.

      I don’t know if it’s the same for you, but for me, whenever I have depression I feel far from God, and then when I have antidepressants that work on the depression, I feel closer to God again. It frustrates me that when I am at my lowest, I can’t seem to feel God’s presence, and I wish it weren’t that way, but it is that way for me. Sometimes I wonder if it’s something about the way my body is wired. We are body, mind, spirit, all tied up, and our body chemistry often affects how we feel about God, and how God feels to us.

      I’m really hoping and praying that you can hang in there until you get treatment that helps the depression. Most people with depression find good treatment – either through medication or talking therapy or exercise – and it makes a big difference, and you can start to feel more like yourself again.

      I often find it hard to pray when I am in the middle of hard times, but I find it makes a big difference if others pray for me. Sometimes I pray for other people, but find it hard to pray for myself. This is all okay, and is often just part of the sucky depression.

      Sometimes I think that depression is like a deceitful, thick sea fog, that covers the landscape in a grey mist, so you can’t see the twinkly lights of the harbour any more, and you start to believe that nothing exists outside of the grey. You need people to remind you that there really is a harbour, and twinkly lights – you need people to pray for you, and believe things for you when you don’t have the strength to believe any more. And then, at a point when you least expect it, the fog lifts, and you can see they were telling the truth – there really is a harbour, and twinkly lights.

      So – I can tell you – that you are deeply loved by God, and that He knows you, and sees you.

      I’m praying you can hold on until the fog lifts. With much love.

  3. J 19th November, 2012 at 12:31 am #

    Thank you so much for this. I’ve often struggled with this story. I was sexually abused for many years and really struggle with this story of a woman so utterly used and abeused by people she should have been able to trust – who should have protected her. But most of all I struggle with the fact that God let her be, and I always felt that he abandoned her for the sake of more important plans for people he loved more – her abusers. Thank you for showing me that her experience wasn’t abandonment by God, rather she experienced beig remembered by him. Maybe I will feel that way some day too. I still find the unfairness of it term painful, and I still expect the reason for my sufferings to be for someone else’s good – I feel like a disposable pawn in God’s plan, not a child and heir. When I can begin to know that God sees me, like he saw hagar, maybe then I’ll be able to start to heal.
    Sorry to sound so sad, I feel sad today. Xx

    • Tanya 21st November, 2012 at 12:21 pm #

      I’ve waited for a quiet moment to respond to this. Thank you for your words, and sharing something of your story – it made me so, so glad I had written this, glad that you found it. I felt sad today in your sadness.

      ‘I still expect the reason for my sufferings to be for someone else’s good’ -oh, I know this feeling, often unvoiced. It is another way of feeling abused, used for someone else. That is a painful thing indeed.

      ‘when I can begin to know that God sees me…maybe I’ll be able to start to heal.’ This is really powerful, really true. I am praying this for you right now. Sending much, much love.

      • J 22nd November, 2012 at 1:58 am #

        Thank you so much for your reply. It was very scary for me to write my post but I felt God wanted me to and I really appreciate your prayer and love in return.
        Incidently, I have posted elsewhere on here with my full name but while I have recommended your blog widely, many people in my life don’t know I was abused and my comment above felt very personal so I hope it’s OK I only used my initial here.
        The issues in my life that stem from this abuse are very much alive and current and I’m trying to walk a path of grace and forgiveness as well as truth and safety. It’s very hard but God is using your ministry here to help me so much, thank you x

        • Tanya 22nd November, 2012 at 10:29 am #

          Thank you for your courage. I completely understand your hesitation in sharing your details – that is completely fine.

          Walking that path of grace and forgiveness as well as truth and safety- that is so aptly put. And it’s a really tough one to dol Have you ever had counselling? Sometimes it can help to have someone alongside to help negotiate that path. Xxx

  4. Anita @ Dreaming Beneath the Spires 29th January, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

    Tanya, I have had the same experience as Hagar, in which I have returned to the SAME situation but full of hope and confidence and vision because I have heard God speak.

    I wonder if that’s our most urgent need, to hear what God has to say about our situations. I feel frustrated with myself sometimes for waffling around, trying this, and trying that, this hope, and that scheme, when I need instead to shut myself up with the source of all wisdom and hear what he has to say–Either “go back to your mistress, and submit,” or a suggested way out of the suffering.

    Here’s a lovely excerpt from Gilead by Marilynne Robinson .
    The story of Hagar and Ishmael says that it is not only the father of a child who cares for its life, who protects its mother, and it says that even if the mother can’t find a way to provide for it or herself, provision will be made. At that level, it is a story full of comfort. That is how life goes–we send our children into the wilderness. Some of them on the day they are born, it seems, for all the help we can give him. Some of them seem to be a kind of wilderness unto themselves. But there must be angels there, too, and springs of water. Even that wilderness, the very habitation of jackals, is the Lord’s.

    Your blog is so rich. I wonder if you might be interested in guest-posting on my blog, on Feb 5th or Feb 19th?

    We could use one of your favourite posts, freshened up. Reading through your archive, you have such rich, thoughtful posts, and it would be lovely to give them fresh life and introduce them to a fresh audience. 300-800 words?
    Do let me know at
    Thanks much, Anita

    • Tanya 6th February, 2012 at 1:36 pm #

      Hi Anita. I think you’re right, that what we really need is God’s voice and wisdom in our situations (though I suspect that you are probably better than me at listening to God!)I loved that quote, especially ‘there must be angels there too, and springs of water’.

      Am looking forward to writing a guest post! Thank you for the suggestion.

  5. Emma 28th January, 2012 at 8:43 pm #

    I think many of us can identify more strongly with Hagar than Sarah – thanks for reminding us that God has plans for all His people, not just the strong ones.

    • Tanya 29th January, 2012 at 10:47 am #

      Hagars of the world UNITE! 🙂 Glad that he looks after us all. Thanks for the encouragement.

  6. Alice 21st January, 2012 at 4:10 pm #

    Oh this is fantastic to read! I love that her story continued, even though we don’t know how and all the time God saw her and was with her. I often feel incidental but this has encouraged me that I don’t need to push for a different part in life.

    Thank you so much!!!

    • Tanya 29th January, 2012 at 10:45 am #

      I’m so glad this spoke to you!

  7. Jennifer 19th January, 2012 at 6:12 pm #

    I feel somewhat like Hagar, in my situation my husband, out of obedience to God – that’s a huge thing after along time of him not being obedient and our family paying for it – has decided to go to BC Teen Challenge A 12 month Christin-based rehabillitation program for those who struggle with addictions and life controlling issues can be broken and restart on the path of Life. Its program, not surprisingly, has a 80%-90% success rate that is based on stats of those who have been graduated for 5 years and are doing well. So that’s cool!

    But, I miss him! I know this is an answer to my prayers and the future holds a lot of greatness, but after all this drama, I am faced with “what now?” Besides the obvious things like daily responsibilities, the boys, supporting him, prayer, etc. “What do I do now? Who am I now? What is my purpose and what’s Gods plan for me? What about my dreams, do they count or matter or are they eve in the plan book? Where do I fit in? What about this emptiness?”

    I’m not entirely sure what I posted this, maybe to get answers or just to speak out and get it off my chest. Whatever the reason, it felt alittle better to say something and this blog seemed appropriate to respond to.

    Anyways thanks again.


    • Tanya 19th January, 2012 at 6:25 pm #

      Wow. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s awesome that your husband is on this rehabilitation programme – sounds like a long-awaited answer to prayer. I can definitely understand that it would be tough to be in a period of ‘limbo’ though, even though it is a position of hope. Am praying that the course is a lasting healing for your husband – and indeed your whole family – and that God speaks to you.

      Was really nice to hear a bit of your story – thank you.

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