|"For This Child I Prayed" by Elspeth Young|
In Hannah’s day women who were unable to bear children occupied a lower social status that women who had children and were viewed to be “cursed” or “afflicted”. They were also a woman’s “social security” in her old age. In view of these things one can imagine that Hannah may have wanted a child in order to gain more social status in her house hold, to secure her own comfort in the future, or she may have wanted to “show up” her husband’s other wife, Peninnah (who had children) and who often “…provoked her [Hannah] sore, for to make her fret, because the Lord had shut up her womb.”
Yet it is interesting to me that in her prayer to the Lord Hannah didn’t mention any of those motives as her reason for wanting a child. In 1 Samuel 1:11 we read about how Hannah, “in bitterness of soul” went to the tabernacle in Shiloh and “vowed a vow” to the Lord that “… if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life…” Hannah had gotten to a point in her life where she was ready and willing to surrender her will completely to the Lord. She doesn’t ask for a child for selfish reasons, all she asks for is the blessing of being a vessel to bring a child to earth. She knew from the very start that she wasn’t going to get to raise Samuel, she knew that he wouldn’t be there to take care of her in her old age, she knew that she wouldn’t get to dress him up and parade him in front of Peninnah or the other women. In fact, she knew she would have to face one of the hardest tasks any woman could face-- turning her child completely over to the Lord. She knew all this before she even conceived Samuel and yet she still wanted him.
In vs. 24 of 1 Samuel 1 we read more about her sacrifice and the condition of her heart, “And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with three bullocks, and one ephah of flour, and a bottle of wine, and brought him unto the house of the Lord in Shiloh: and the child was young. And she said… I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord. And he worshiped the Lord there. ”
We don’t know for sure how old Samuel was but women in Hannah’s culture often breastfed their children into their toddler hood and didn’t wean them until they were around 3 or 4 years old. My little son is turning three soon and as I think about Hannah and her little Samuel my heart aches for what she must have felt during those years she nursed him. I wonder if she had a constant battle going on in her head and heart about whether or not to honor her vow to the Lord. She easily could she could have kept Samuel and no one, except the Lord, would ever have known. It is such an example to me of her faith and integrity that Hannah honored her vow to the Lord and gave her little son to the Lord like she had promised. I can only imagine her pain as she walked away from the tabernacle leaving behind her little son, knowing that from that point on that she would only see him once a year when her family would bring their offering to the tabernacle. Did Samuel cry for her as she left? My heart aches as I imagine her weeping that night as she rode back to her tent, still filled with Peninnah’s passel of children, empty handed.
Yet despite the sorrow she must have felt she still found voice to praise God. In chapter 2 of 1 Samuel is Hannah’s psalm in which she sings “ My heart rejoiceth in the Lord, mine horn is exalted in the Lord… There is none holy as the Lord; for there is none beside thee… for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed… The Lord killeth, and makest alive; he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up… the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s and he hath set the world upon them.” (vs. 1,2,6,8).
I love the phrase she uses “mine horn is exalted in the Lord”. ‘Horn” in Hebrew is a figurative way of saying “power” or “capacity” and exalted can mean either “elevated” or “ joyful”. So another way to interpret what Hannah is saying in her psalm is that her “power, or capacity” has been “elevated” by the Lord. I don’t believe Hannah is talking about worldly power but rather rejoicing in God’s power and in the great miracle that he had allowed her to participate in. God had given her power to create and she recognized that it was not her own power, but that she had been a vessel through which the power of God had flown.
Hannah’s story has meant a lot to me in my life because at the beginning of my marriage I had some health problems and at one point was faced with the possibility that I might not be able to have children. Up until that point in my life I’d never really wanted to become a mother. My life plans included a Ph.D., traveling, and doing important things- which in my mind meant working for the UN fighting AIDS and world hunger. Children were not a priority in my life and I figured they would come someday when I had started all the "important" things I wanted to do with my life. Then, when I was faced with the fact that I might never be able to have children and suddenly ALL I wanted in the whole world was to be a mother-- desperately. I spent hours on my knees pleading with God, telling him that my heart had changed and begged Him, like Hannah, to “not forget thine handmaid”.
The year I struggled with infertility (I know that sounds pathetic compared to what some women experience) completely changed the direction of my life. I came to understand the hunger and desperation that Hannah must have felt when she went up to the house of the Lord and “was in the bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore.” I felt like that trial had awakened a part of my soul that I had tried to silence for most of my life. I felt my “mother heart” awaken; it was powerful, overwhelming, and completely soul changing. I still don’t know why I had that short, yet hard, trial of infertility. What I do know is that during that year I discovered the seeds of creation within my soul; I watered them with my tears, fed them with the insatiable hunger of my soul and I felt them grow and expand. I knew, as surely as I could know anything, that those seed would one day sprout—in this life or the next.
I know there are people who will disagree with me but I feel that within every woman is a mothering heart—the divine seeds of love that yearn for continuing life. I realize that there are women who say they aren’t “natural” mothers, they don’t like children, or they have never had those sort of desires. I understand that, completely, because for a long time that was what I said about myself. Yet I firmly believe that we have been created in the image of God, male and female, and that like him we find out greatest joy in creation. When we participate in any sort of creation -- whether it be creating a new life, a piece of art, music, writing, the construction of a building, or the nurturing of a garden-- we get to be an instrument in God’s hand and vessels for his power. They are the times we see, like Hannah did, that we are nothing without Him and they cause us to exclaim, “My horn is exalted in the Lord.” They are the experiences our souls hunger for.
Questions to Think About:
- I realize that not all men and women have the opportunity to use their procreative powers on this earth. What ways do you exercise your creative power?
- Do you think that there is something within men and women’s eternal soul that desires children? Why or why not?
- Why are women willing to make such sacrifices, including risking their lives, to bring children into the world?
- Could you dedicate your child to the Lord like Hannah did?
- What other women in the scriptures does Hannah’s story remind you of?
- Why are women so quick to judge each other unkindly and “provoke each other sore”, especially in relation to the experiences of child bearing, pregnancy, labor and mothering?