Hannah's story is quite famous in Bible history. At the time of
her emotional breakdown described in the verse above, she was no
longer a young woman. The promise that had budded in the heart of
Hannah the hopeful bride had gradually faded year after year as
she waited for the next step: to have a son. It was so important
back then to bear children and carry on the family name that men
had the right to divorce their wives with no other complaint than
her failure to conceive.
So social pressure was huge, but not
only did Hannah face the disappointment of her own personal hopes
and the pressures of her society, she also had a constant reminder
of her failures in the person of Elkanah's other wife, Peninnah.
Aren't you thankful that society has finally caught up to God's
standards of "one wife per husband"? Just imagine the lifelong stress
of competing for your own husband's time, attention and affection!
This stress only grew worse for Hannah as again and again Penninah
conceived, her belly gradually swelling as a tiny life grew and
developed inside her.
If this were a modern story, Hannah
would have heard Elkanah leaving for yet another midnight raid on
the grocery store to quell Penninah's food cravings or walked into
the living room to see him solicitously tucking soft pillows behind
Penninah in response to her complaints of the baby putting pressure
on her back. Imagine Hannah standing silent and still in the dark
hall, watching Elkanah place his hand on Peninnah's abdomen to feel
the baby kick. Can you feel Hannah's bitterness at being so left
out, so completely unnecessary to the picture of husband and wife
sharing a smile over this special moment?
Well, Hannah's feelings were renewed
and compounded as this cycle of new life kept playing out before
her longing eyes time and time again, leaving her feeling as desirable
as stale leftovers. Not that Elkanah loved her any less--the Bible
says he felt great love and sympathy for Hannah--but I think that
Hannah couldn't believe in his love for her because she had gradually
ceased to value herself.
And that's how she came to be crying
and praying at the temple that day. It was part of a ritual that
repeated itself year after year. For Hannah, it was kind of like
New Year's Eve, a high school reunion and Easter Sunday rolled into
one. Like New Year's, it was the time for Hannah to look back on
the previous year and be reminded of its lack of fruitfulness in
her life. Like a high school reunion, she faced the public humiliation
of society and the spitefulness of mean people who would rub it
in her face that they had achieved more "success" than her. Like
Easter, it was a holy day to the Lord--the day everyone who was
anyone gathered at the temple.
Hannah had felt miserable at this
time every year for as long as she could remember. She had cried
and prayed many years before. But the story doesn't focus on those
years. It focuses on this one. Because this was the year Hannah's
prayer was finally answered.
Why did God wait so long to answer
prayer? Was He waiting
for Hannah to promise her future son to the temple for a lifetime
of serving God? Was He testing Hannah's faith and love for Him or
strengthening her character or perhaps teaching her empathy for
Hannah didn't know what God was doing
in her life and why. She just knew that year after year God was
saying, "Wait," in her life.
I think He does that to every purity
girl at some time. Maybe you, like Hannah, are growing depressed
or bitter over a deferred answer to the desire of your heart.
You may be praying for physical healing or friendship or a happy
home. Perhaps you wish to look different or to feel accepted and
loved. Maybe your problem is bad grades, poverty or being picked
on at school. What's your unanswered prayer? God knows about your
problem and He cares about it, even when for some reason He says,
"Like as a father pitieth his children,
so the LORD pitieth them that fear Him" (Psalm 103:13). God didn't
answer Hannah's prayer for many years, but He loved her and He admired
her and He sympathized with her feelings. He gave her love through
her husband who tried to comfort her but couldn't. God was keeping
score to right the wrongs of others who were mocking Hannah's grief
over the years. (See Hannah's thankful prayer in 1 Samuel 2:5.)
The Bible says that "hope deferred
maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree
of life" (Proverbs 13:12). When God says, "Wait," it may make you
heartsick, but please try not to grow bitter. I wonder how often
Hannah felt happy during those years while she was waiting to have
a baby. Looking back, she probably wished that she'd have enjoyed
that time more...because Hannah was destined to have a happy life
and many children. There was good in her future, and her unhappiness,
bitterness and longing didn't make her wish come true any faster.
Hannah's eyes were so fastened on
the one wish that she couldn't make come true that she couldn't
enjoy her husband, her prosperity or the qualities within herself
that attracted her husband to her despite her barrenness and her
bitterness about it. Her jealousy of Penninah and her many children
had made Hannah blind to the fact that in many ways Penninah was
jealous of her.
I know how Hannah's story applies
to my life, but what about yours? What are you waiting for? Have
you told God about it? There's no sin in pouring out your complaints
to God--even Job did that. But Job also said, "Though God slay me,
I'll still trust in Him." How can you keep a Job-like attitude in
the midst of your deferred hopes?
First of all, when you bring your
complaints to God, try to leave them there. Agree to accept His
answer, even when it isn't the one you want--at least not for now.
After that, circumstances may cause your pangs of longing to keep
returning, as Hannah's did, but try to find some joy in the journey
and live your life to it's fullest, even while you must wait.