Hannah was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly... Eli, the priest observed her mouth moving, but her voice was not heard. Therefore, he thought her to be drunk. And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.” 1 Samuel 1:10-16
Q & A with Hannah:
Q: Hannah, your story starts right out informing us that you were one of two wives. Your husband’s other wife had children, but you had none. Talk to us about how difficult that was, if you would?
A: Let me respond by asking you some questions. How do you feel when you are provoked day after day, month after month, year after year; needled, hassled, and purposely irritated by someone who despises you, yet lives in your home? Add to that, the fact that the very thing your rival mocks you about is so personal, and something that you can’t change, in spite of anything you might try to do? Even worse, the topic of derision isn’t just thrown in your face at home. Imagine what it’s like when the culture you live in sees barrenness as a curse from God? Even your neighbors whisper behind your back wondering what disobedient act brought about your infertility? Can you even begin to picture what it’s like, when every month your own body mocks you? Can you conjure up the depth of emotional grief that each cycle brings with it, for every bloody show represents the life of a child that will not be born? My life was way beyond difficult. Words like “deeply distressed,” “bitter,” “troubled in spirit,” “great anxiety,” and “vexation” hardly do justice to the emptiness of my soul.
Q: I'm so sorry! My question does seem trivial. However, the words your son recorded about your story, also tell us that you were greatly loved by your husband, Elkanah. In fact, it would appear, reading between the lines, that he loved you twice as much as Peninnah. Certainly, it brought consolation knowing how beloved you were?
A: Of course, every woman desires to be greatly loved; and yes, that knowledge brought consolation. Yet, his love didn’t change the fact that I constantly felt competition from Peninnah. It didn’t change the fact that everyone else looked at me as greatly debilitated, as sub-female, and unable to fulfill my divine purpose on earth. After years and years of seeing myself through those eyes, even the love of a man could not erase away the knowledge of that identity. Only God could transform who I was in the eyes of the world.
Q: So that’s what led you to the temple?
A: Well, that, obviously; but there was more. You see, with each passing month, with every sideways glance, with every irritating word from Peninnah, my empty heart closed tightly. I started growing bitter: bitter at my husband for having a second wife; bitter at Peninnah for her provocation; bitter at each of my husband’s children, for they represented what I could never have; but, mostly, bitter at God, for He seemed to have abandoned me. God could have stepped in, but He didn’t...He had closed my womb. The entrapment of my bitterness was far worse than my emptiness. I knew I would explode from the inside out, if I didn’t pour out my heart before God. So, I went to the temple to remove the lid of bitterness that had sealed shut my empty heart. After all, how can God pour any blessing into a heart that is not open to Him?
Q: And, so?
H: And, so...that’s exactly what I did. I prayed. I wept all the bitterness out of my heart, right through my eyes. I gave God everything – my distress, my barrenness, the emptiness of my soul, and, especially my anger. I left it all on the altar. When I got up, the peace of God had filled my heart. I walked away a free and happy woman. When we hand over everything in our hearts, even the emptiness, to the Lord, we are in a position for him to fill us up (Ps. 16:11). Not only did God fill me, He blessed me with a son. Yet, Samuel was destined to be God’s man – not mine. He was destined to have God’s fingerprints all over his life, not mine. I wouldn’t have been able to give Samuel back to God had it not been for my initial infertility; and, what a man of God, my son grew to be!
Bottom Line: Bitterness only seals our hearts shut; releasing all anger to God, puts God in a position to bless and fill to overflowing. Keep in mind, that blessing may look nothing like we expect...