By Kimberly Davidson
Most days when we turn to the news, it seems like we’re living in a gloomy, bad dream. Some of us are facing life-changing health, family, or financial challenges. Others live under the cloud of abuse, abandonment, and low self-worth. We’re all going through stressful and depressing times—some more than others. Countless people are clinging to a thread of hope. Waiting is a hard thing to endure, especially when a significant amount of time goes by and our dreams, hopes, and prayers haven’t been fulfilled.
Thank God there is always hope in him. We have the same hope the people of the Bible had. As we study their lives, we find they have some things in common with us: God’s hand was on them when life looked dark and desperate; although they lived in settings quite different than ours, they faced many of the same challenges we face; they cried out to God and God listened; God was their source of hope and power.
Hannah knew the misery of waiting for dreams that didn’t come true. We meet her in 1 Samuel 1 and witness her walk through the different stages of grief and loss.
The Pain of Infertility
Hannah had a godly husband, Elkanah, who loved her dearly. He was a Levite who belonged to one of the most honorable families. However, she lived under an enormous cloud of stress.
Hannah became depressed when she had to deal with infertility and a strained familial relationship over a prolonged period of time. It was a disgrace to be barren in her culture. Children were so important that a husband was permitted to divorce an infertile wife. Women were valued for producing babies, thereby perpetuating the family line of the father. There were no fertility treatments in those days. Most likely Hannah reacted to learning of the loss with numbed disbelief.
Although a religious man, Elkanah followed the pagan custom of polygamy. It is likely that Hannah was Elkanah’s first wife. Since she was barren, it’s possible Elkanah took a second wife, Peninnah, to ensure that his family’s name would be carried on. Can you imagine what it must have been like for Hannah to live with a co-wife who had no trouble bearing children?
As the years passed, Peninnah kept conceiving while Hannah continued to suffer emotionally from infertility. As each year passed, so did her hope for having a baby. As the shock of infertility wore off, it was replaced with the suffering of unbelievable pain. However, Hannah had one great asset—Elkanah loved her and didn’t divorce her.
Hannah’s agony became more intense, and her barrenness a greater burden because of the jealousy and heartlessness of her rival. Peninnah kept adding to Hannah’s stress, through no fault of Hannah’s. “And because the Lord had closed her womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat” (1 Samuel 1:6, 7).
Hanging on to a Thread of Hope
Infertility can lead to depression, depression to despair, and despair to faith-destroying hopelessness. Frustration with Peninnah surely gave way to feelings of anger, rejection, and jealousy since she had tormented and humiliated Hannah for years. Hannah wept. She didn’t eat. Her heart had been stomped on repeatedly. Hannah felt like a failure. Behind closed doors, did she lash out verbally or did she stuff her emotions to please her husband? Either way, the dejection likely took a toll on her health.
We can feel how desperate Hannah was—so desperate that she bargained with God. “In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord weeping bitterly. And she made a vow, ‘Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life’” (1 Samuel 1:8, 10, 11).
Hannah knew only one way out. She turned to God and entrusted the resolution to him, looking to him to sustain her. Childless, she still believed. Her pain found a refuge in prayer.
Can you feel her desperation? Her resolve? Please don’t forget me, Lord! Give me a son! Hannah’s despair was overpowering, and even though Elkanah loved her, it appears that he wasn’t able to console her. Desperate, Hannah held onto one person—God. She knew God was her only source.
It’s easy to pour caustic thoughts on hope because then we’re not required to feel the pain when our expectations aren’t met. If I have no expectations then I don’t have to deal with any kind of loss. The problem is if I push away life and God, then I push away hope.
Focused on God
Provoked by Penninah’s malice, Hannah refused to retaliate. Instead she poured out her heart and soul to God. She unstuffed and prayed through her grief. Her anguish disappeared, like the moon when the sun rises each morning. No longer downcast, she praised the Lord. Her prayers were answered in time—in God’s time.
God had spoken, and it would be—Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son, the renowned Samuel. She bore Elkanah three other sons and two daughters, six children in all. As a result of Hannah’s honest praying and faith in God, she was finally fulfilled as a woman, capable of bearing children. The burden had been lifted. Her identity restored.
The key to understanding Hannah’s dramatic turnaround is attributed to her attention on God. Resentment comes when we look at others, but contentment comes when we focus on God.
The Same God
Let Hannah’s story hold up your pillar of hope. Her God is your God, and he hasn’t changed—nor will he. His purposes haven’t changed either.
Hannah also had an ally, the priest Eli (1 Samuel 1:9-18). The first step toward healing is sharing our hearts and pain with a trusted person. When a woman shares with me, I get extremely excited because she’s taking that first small step toward healing.
Sometimes God lets us struggle until we recognize our dependence on him. In doing so, he gives our faith an opportunity to grow and mature. Hannah recognized God’s holiness and the presence of God’s Spirit working within her, changing a negative situation into a positive. Hannah knew God’s character: firm, strong, and unchanging. God’s plans far exceeded her expectations.
Hannah learned what we all need to learn: God alone fulfills our lives. We can receive the same kind of peace when we realize, in faith, God is with us 24/7. He is our comforter and sustaining power. Memorize Hannah’s prayer: “There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God” (1 Samuel 2:2).
Kimberly Davidson is a biblical counselor and writer in Molalla, Oregon.
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