Life, at times, can be painful. Experiences can break our hearts.
I’ve struggled over writing this post. Probably because it means so much to me, and I appreciate the power of pain in the lives of others. I hope it offers some help, and not cause more pain. Please join in the conversation and the journey with me.
I’m also aware I use the word ‘pain’ a lot – but no other one quite encapsulates the feeling I mean…
Hannah was broken-hearted. She wanted to have a child, and had never had one. A situation that brings with it feelings of failure, of desperate longing, of hopes dashed again and again.
Your pain, may have a different source, but pain it still is.
4 Whenever Elkanah offered a sacrifice, he gave some of the meat to Peninnah and some to each of her sons and daughters. 5 But he gave Hannah even more, because he loved Hannah very much, even though the Lord had kept her from having children of her own.
6 Peninnah liked to make Hannah feel miserable about not having any children, 7 especially when the family went to the house of the Lord each year.
One day, Elkanah was there offering a sacrifice, when Hannah began crying and refused to eat. 8 So Elkanah asked, “Hannah, why are you crying? Why won’t you eat? Why do you feel so bad? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”
9 When the sacrifice had been offered, and they had eaten the meal, Hannah got up and went to pray. Eli was sitting in his chair near the door to the place of worship. 10 Hannah was brokenhearted and was crying as she prayed, 11 “Lord All-Powerful, I am your servant, but I am so miserable! Please let me have a son. I will give him to you for as long as he lives, and his hair will never be cut.”
12-13 Hannah prayed silently to the Lord for a long time. But her lips were moving, and Eli thought she was drunk. 14 “How long are you going to stay drunk?” he asked. “Sober up!”
15-16 “Sir, please don’t think I’m no good!” Hannah answered. “I’m not drunk, and I haven’t been drinking. But I do feel miserable and terribly upset. I’ve been praying all this time, telling the Lord about my problems.”
17 Eli replied, “You may go home now and stop worrying. I’m sure the God of Israel will answer your prayer.”
18 “Sir, thank you for being so kind to me,” Hannah said. Then she left, and after eating something, she felt much better.
Samuel Is Born
19 Elkanah and his family got up early the next morning and worshiped the Lord. Then they went back home to Ramah. Later the Lord blessed Elkanah and Hannah 20 with a son. She named him Samuel because she had asked the Lord for him.
This passage can be such a painful one. Many women, and men, long for a child and are not blessed with one as Hannah eventually was.
There are other reasons in society we are made to feel inadequate, situation that cause great agonising. But whatever the reason, the pain, the longing, the anguish, the sheer unfairness of it all runs through it. We may think that we will just get on with life, but the feelings catch up and overwhelm – when you’re expecting them to, and when you’re not.
So what has this passage to say to that pain?
One thing it says it that though she had produced no children, Elkanah loved Hannah. Her worth was not bound up in her fertility. That’s an important lesson in a society that still places a huge emphasis on ‘producing the next generation’. No pressure, no questions – just love and acceptance.
Peoples worth is not caught up in what they have or haven’t done in their lives – especially things they have no control over. You have an intrinsic value and place in the world.
Your worth is in you, the person you are, not what you produce.
Peninnah, by contrast, made Hannah’s life miserable, constantly making a point of Hannah’s childlessness. I wonder if she quite grasped the agony? Or if she just enjoyed finding Hannah’s weak point and turning the knife in it? There’s a lesson here too for those who enjoy others pain, or are sometimes too quick to use it.
Hannah came to the Lord in her pain, and cried out to him. Who knows why on this occasion his answer was ‘yes’, and Samuel was born. His answer had been ‘no’ enough times before. I’m sure Hannah hadn’t only this day decided it was time to pray about it. I’m sure she’d shared her frustration and anger with him before. When accused of being drunk, she assured them that,
I’ve been praying all this time, telling the Lord about my problems.”
That is a good place to start – but not an easy place. To let go, to open ourselves up, to really pour your heart out to him, is in itself a real act of faith. To bring our problems to God does not always mean an easy solution – I guess we only hear in the bible about the ones that were. No one recounts the apparent non-answers, where would the story be in that? But I’m sure there were. Even Jesus didn’t receive the answer he might have wanted from God, but had to go the painful and apparently defeated route.
But for Hannah it was also about more than motherhood. A child was seen as a sign of God’s blessing. Hannah needed to know that God loved her and wanted to bless her. In fact she did not even want to keep the child, she was willing to give him back to God to serve in the Temple. She just wanted to know that God was with her.
Are you longing for something that you think if only God gave it to you it would show how much he loved you? Something emotional, physical or material? Are you waiting to feel that God loves you?
I can tell you that he does, but you’ve probably heard people say that. I know from my experience that God loves us and is faithful to us, whether he gives us the things we think are important or not. I can tell you that God loves you immeasurably – even in the depths of your pain and despair.
But that’s something you need to know for yourself. And perhaps a good place to find it is in Hannah’s example. Can you tell the Lord your problems? Pour them out to him – and allow him to wrap his arms of love around you. Let him hold you as you cry, hear your shouts and screams, touch the rawness of your scars?
Because that’s what he wants to do. His love is so bound up in you already.
I come to you.
I bring you my problems,
whatever they are.
You know my pain,
my feelings of inadequacy.
Lord may I know your love
and feel it deep within.
May I know that I have worth
and am valued.
Touch me Lord,
at my place of need,