She got married young and all she dreamed about was having a little girl. She wanted a girl who would be just like her and dress like her. She was faithful to the Lord and well known for her singing in her church community locally and abroad. Yet after 4 years of having no child, her faith began to be tested. She felt the glancing eyes of people as she felt the social stigma of not having a child after being married for years. She wondered if she would be a barren woman for life. Then finally after 4 years, she had a little girl named Carla. However, Carla was born premature and after 3 months she passed away. My mother even began to question God as she not only endured 4 years of being childless, but then having the unfavorable experience of burying the girl she always wanted.
The pain my mother experienced was similar to the woman in the Bible she was named after. Her name was Hannah. She married a good and loving man from the hill country of Ephraim named Elkanah. He loved the Lord and as a Levite, he was a spiritual leader in his community, thus putting Hannah in the high profile position of, essentially, a pastor’s wife. And as they faithfully, year after year, went down to the house of the LORD in Shiloh to worship and offer sacrifices, the painful reality began to sink in that Hannah was barren. The social stigma for a woman, especially the wife of a Levite, to have not only a child, but a male child is something we can’t even begin to understand. She lived in an eastern high shame and honor culture, where if a woman couldn’t have children she was seen as worthless. It meant that she didn’t have anyone to extend the family into the future, care for her in old age, provide her proper burial or carry on their memory. Then to make matters worse, her husband, out of desperation, followed the Canaanite custom of contracting a second wife to bare him children. The husband that she loved, and who loved her, was now sleeping with another woman. And if that wasn’t bad enough, year after year, this other woman would have a child, to the point that she bore Elkanah several sons and daughters. In other words, this emotional wound of barrenness, while her rival kept having child after child, was something Hannah was enduring for years. Yet she suffers in silence, without one word of complaint. The ironic thing is that Hannah’s name in Hebrew means favor. Yet nothing in her circumstances looks favorable at all! What do you do when you love God and are faithfully serving Him, yet no one understands your pain, what you're going through or even add to it? How do we experience God's favor, especially mothers, when your circumstances look unfavorable? Let’s see if we can find out in 1st Samuel 1.
The setting takes place during the time of the judges and when Eli, the High priest in Shiloh was also judge. However his sons, who served under his religious and political administration where corrupt. You get a sense of Elkanah and Hannah’s character, that in spite of bad spiritual and political leadership, they remained faithful to God and the institution He established to reveal His love to the world. On one occasion in Shiloh, Elkanah went to offer one of the sacrifices in which the Levitical family was allowed to have a portion of to celebrate as a meal. It was kind of like a Thanksgiving dinner. He gives Peninnah and her children their regular portion, but to show Hannah how much he loved her, he gave her a double portion. And though he was well meaning by this gesture, it stirred up jealousy in Penninah, who thought she deserved more since she bore him all the children. We pick up the story in verse 6…
Hannah just can’t take it anymore. Not only is she being provoked by her husband’s other wife while endure the public shame of barrenness, but not even he understands the pain she’s experiencing. A river of tears wells up in her eyes like a dam that’s about to break open. She has no appetite. She abruptly get’s up and runs out. And finally she gets to the house of the LORD to pour out her soul in pray! And here we discover that if you want to experience God’s favor when your circumstances look unfavorable, you’ve got to…
Let Your Pain Push You to Prayer
Our pain often pushes us to other things like addiction, bitterness or getting even with those who hurt us. But it’s never enough and the pain remains. But it’s not until your pain pushes you to prayer, that you begin to experience God’s favor.
My mother’s pain in losing Carla led her to search her heart. She told me that she began to realize that she had her own ideas about what it meant to be a mother and wasn’t ready for what it would really require of her. She began to surrender her will to the Lord’s in prayer. She told Him that it didn’t matter whether He gave her a boy or a girl, she would trust Him to give her a child how and when He sees it’s best for her. Carla died a day after my mother’s birthday on February 14th 1977, Valentines day. 2 years later the Lord blessed my mother with a handsome little boy she named Samuel, which is my middle name, for the little boy was me. My mother let her pain push her to prayer.
Throughout Hannah’s story, no one seems to get her. No one understands her pain. Clearly Peninah doesn’t understand her pain, because she is intentionally adding to it. Elkanah doesn’t understand understand her pain. God bless him, but every time he tries to show his care and sympathy, it unintentionally causes Hannah even more pain. And as we’re about to see, when Hannah goes to the house of the Lord to prayer, Eli doesn’t even get her.
Yet I can hear God saying to you, “Even when your friends, family or even the church doesn’t get your pain, I do!” Bring your pain, your problems, your hurts to Me, God says. When no one else is listening, God says, “I’m listening.” He is the best therapist. He says, “Pull up a seat and tell Me all that’s troubling you and let Me regulate your mind.” He loves you. He sees what you’re going through and if you’ll let your pain push you to prayer, He stands ready to grant you His favor!
Hannah begins to pour out, in tears, the bitterness and anguish of her soul. She’s finally found her safe place to get it all out in the presence of God. Then she utters this beautiful prayer in verse 11…