Hannah, mother of Samuel, who almost wasn’t a mother.
Hannah, who has two chapters of the Bible dedicated to her story – yet two books named after her son, due to her faithfulness in dedicating him to God.
Hannah, whose soul was deeply troubled by unfulfilled longings.
I understand your pain, oh sister of old.
And my eyes fall on the words in chapter 1, verse 5 – “and the Lord had closed her womb” – and I wonder, “Why? Why in the world would it not say, ‘She wasn’t able to bear a child,’ or ‘Nature had kept her from conceiving,’ or even ‘She struggled with infertility’?”
Instead, the hard words are written out in black against the white pages of my Bible – “The Lord had closed her womb” – and there is no follow-up “because …” that we long for so badly.
And the truth of why it is written that way instead of any of the others is because the Lord is sovereign over even our deepest unfulfilled longings. Even that which is a natural part of life, that which happens every day to so many people – marriage and children – even that is not a guarantee, but rather a gift provided for in the sovereignty of God.
And dare we suggest that even the lack of it still has a purpose in God’s sovereign plan? Nothing is random, nothing is an accident, nothing is a surprise to God. The way He orchestrates our lives is often a mystery to us, but it never is to Him.
What follows next in chapter one of 1 Samuel, although not the “because” that we often hope for, is a description of the deeply intimate relationship that Hannah established with God in the midst of her pain. While clearly identifying that God was sovereign over her circumstances, the Bible never minimizes the actual hurt that Hannah felt.
“In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord.” (1 Samuel 1: 10)
She poured out her soul to the Lord and expressed the depth of anguish which she felt over the lack of children in her life. And never was she condemned for this honest expression of her pain, for even in her misery, Hannah never lost her unwavering faith in the Lord.
And I truly believe this is what God desires of His children – that we would come to Him with the anguish of our souls, cast it before Him, and press into His abiding love for us. It’s not an “If … then” scenario where, “If I express my desires to God, then He will give them to me,” but rather, “If I express my desires to God, then I have full faith that He will comfort me with Himself, desires fulfilled or not.”
Hannah demonstrated this after praying out of her “great anguish and grief” – after Eli the priest spoke to her, it says that “her face was no longer downcast.” She was comforted in the great love of her heavenly Father whom she trusted to hear her prayers.
We might be tempted to then get a little cynical at the next part of the story since Hannah did indeed receive what she prayed for – a son.
“How easy for her to have faith – her longings ended up getting fulfilled! Mine still aren’t,” we might think petulantly. “Why doesn’t God listen to my prayers the way He did to Hannah’s?”
But first of all, we have to remember that Hannah had no way of knowing how God would answer her prayers – yet she still fully committed herself to giving her desires over to God. Her story might seem pretty simplistic to us, who read it in a matter of verses, but at the beginning of the chapter it said that she endured years of childlessness before God brought her a child. Years of pent-up anguish and emotion, hoping and hopes being destroyed. Yet Hannah was still consistent in her faith in who God was.
And second of all, while answering Hannah’s prayer brought great joy to her, ultimately God’s reasons are for His sovereign plan to be advanced through His children. And by using Hannah’s infertility to draw her closer to Him, through which she made a vow that she would dedicate her son to Him if He gave her one, Samuel was born and brought up in the temple to be one of the greatest prophets of Israel.
Hannah recognized this, and her response is staggering, “ ‘I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord.’” (1:27-28)
She realized that even the granting of our desires is a gift from the Lord, and she did not selfishly cling to that gift – she gave it right back to the Lord, the King of her heart. Her entire prayer in chapter 2, verses 1-10 signifies the sovereignty of God and His workings in the world.
And I have to ask myself, “Would I respond in such great faith if my longings were fulfilled? Would I be able to bow my knee in humility and recognize that I’m undeserving of such a gift and dedicate it back to the Lord?”
Would all the bitterness of tears wept in lonely years be lost in selfish gratification or would they be humbly remembered as that which paved the way to something far sweeter, given the pain involved in its making?
I pray that even now, when I face trials and unfulfilled longings, my heart would be drawn to my Savior and that I would desire to honor Him in all my prayers, broken or rejoicing alike.
Hannah, woman of faith. Thank you for your vulnerable spirit. Thank you for persevering through the trials of your heart. Thank you for being so faithful to the Lord’s plan over your own. Thank you for pointing us back to our truest source of comfort in pain.
May my womanly heart, though millennia away from yours, be molded into the same faith, fired like pure gold. And may God’s sovereign plan be beautifully demonstrated in my life, even when the longings stay unfulfilled.