I don’t know another holiday that insights such polar reactions from people other than Valentine’s Day. Ironically, a holiday to celebrate “love” receives probably equal parts disdain as it does celebration. There are many reasons people roll their eyes at the red hearts and lace doilies but probably the one that hurts the most is the remembrance of lost love, or a love never found. Celebrating love inevitably reminds us of loved ones who have died, spouses who haven’t materialized and children we haven’t held. Holidays are hard. Fortunately, God hasn’t left us in the wilderness with no witness. The Biblical figure Hannah exemplifies faith-filled endurance while suffering and waiting.
In 1 Samuel 1, we find Hannah experiencing a most personal and peculiar pain – barrenness. We see in verse 5 that the Lord Himself has caused her barrenness and “closed her womb.” And as if it wasn’t enough to endure the pain of childlessness, she has a rival who has had several children, living in her own house, who provokes Hannah specifically regarding her barrenness.
My husband and I journeyed through the dark valley of infertility for 5 years. It was lonely, excruciating and life-altering. It’s difficult to communicate to anyone who hasn’t been there. It became difficult to come to God in prayer, knowing He was the one who sat sovereignly over my closed womb and still trust Him with my request for children. It tested every concept I had of His nature and character and tried me to my core. Would I trust Him when the answer was, for 60 months, “No.”?
Hannah is living that reality – for years God’s response to her has been “No.” Add to this an enemy in her own home that provokes a raw wound. Amazingly, we see Hannah do two remarkable things: she doesn’t retaliate against her rival and she turns to God. 1 Samuel 1 tells nothing of Hannah responding to her enemy, no ugly words or comebacks, no threats or beatings. In contrast, Genesis 30 is very clear about the ugly rivalry between two sisters, Rachel and Leah, battling to see who can have more sons. But for Hannah, there is not one mention of quarreling. There is One other who met persecution with grace, 1 Peter 2:22-23 says “who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering He uttered no threats but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.” Hannah heroically persevered and entrusted herself and her fate to the Lord. We know this because when her pain reached its peak, she came to the Lord instead of turning away.
Hannah’s prayer life, recorded in just two chapters in 1 Samuel 1 and 2 is still something to marvel at in her humility, faith, and surrender. Hannah faithfully comes to the temple at the commanded feasts when she could have in bitterness skipped out. She pursues God further and goes to the court of the temple and has a daringly personal interaction with God even though she is several yards from the Holy of Holies.
There, in the impersonal, bustling environment of the temple court, Hannah comes “greatly distressed” and “weeping bitterly”. Then comes the most beautiful language to describe prayer in all of scripture, she “pours her soul out to the Lord.” (Verse 15). Hannah doesn’t hold back, doesn’t seem to care that she looks like a crazy woman. Her focus is her communication with God.
Hannah approaches God with deep humility asking God to merely “remember” her. She comes with no hint of entitlement of what God owes her. She doesn’t accuse God of being stingy. She just asks the God of the Universe to consider her. Think of me, Lord, that’s all. Hannah prays with shocking, holy humility in the midst of suffering.
Hannah demonstrates unwavering faith by asking the Lord to give her a child. She, just by bringing her request, acknowledges that only God has the power to grant her request. Then she goes even further to dedicate the child (who is not yet even in her womb) to the Lord as a Nazarite. Hannah, before a son is even born, surrenders Him to the Lord and dedicates not just a season of his life but his entire life to the Lord.
With her faith, she demonstrates striking surrender. Hannah promises the one thing she has been desperate for, to the Lord, trusting that it is best for both her and her unborn child. There are only two other parents in scripture that so profoundly laid down their children – Abraham when he offered Isaac to the Lord and God the Father Himself, laying down His precious Son, Jesus.
She is a hero to me. She is my own daughter’s namesake.
It is encouraging to see that we don’t have to come in prayer quiet and perfectly composed. Hannah comes greatly distressed, weeping and bitter in spirit. Hannah teaches me to come to God in the suffering and disappointment. Come to God and pour your soul out to Him trusting He hears your prayer and considers you because of the all-sufficient work of Jesus. Trust that your suffering will expand your view of God. It will magnify Him as the Almighty Creator who upholds the universe and also bring Him near as the One who tenderly and intricately weaves circumstances for your good.
And finally, we can be encouraged that what God is doing in our life whether painful or joyous – is not only for us. Hannah may have felt her barrenness was a personal attack but the plan of God included so much more than only Hannah and her desire for children. Samuel was a God-ordained miracle, not just for Hannah but the whole nation of Israel. God redeemed the priesthood through Samuel. He was the only person in scripture to be a Judge, Priest, and Prophet. He was the bridge between the Judges and the Monarchy. His spiritual leadership was rivaled only by Moses. He was the king-anointer. He was a forerunner to John the Baptist who would anoint the True King with baptism. And Hannah’s life’s struggle was included in the God-breathed and life-giving Scripture to encourage millions after her. In your struggle remember, it’s very likely God is weaving something together that is greater than you and supernatural in its impact of others.
If you’re left longing on Valentine’s Day – pour out your heart to the Lord, read Hannah’s life and take courage in your endurance.