My parents never expected to become my parents. After years of longing for a family they were told by countless doctors that it was simply impossible for them. They prayed time and time again that God would provide them with the children they were so desperate for. There were times when they were angry with Him, there were times when they wanted to walk away from Him completely, but in the midst of those times they never gave up hope. When they finally – by nothing short of a miracle – had their first child aged 38 and 42, after being married for over 10 years, they aptly named her Hannah…
Although as a child I always loved to remind my sister that, unlike Esther, she doesn’t have a whole book named after her, Hannah is quite possibly one the most faithful women we are introduced to in the Bible. We only have to read Hannah’s Prayer (1 Samuel 2:1-11) to see just how deep that faith goes, and how much trust she placed in the Lord. She suffered from barrenness for many years, but never once gave up hope that the Lord could provide for her. Instead of giving in to despair and turning her back on her God, she used her time of longing to draw closer to Him through prayer and devotion. So much so that when the priest saw her he was convinced she was drunk! The significance of Hannah, a woman, being shown to have a greater understanding of God’s work than even the priests and elders provides a whole new perspective on the God of the Old Testament. Whereas in many cases He as portrayed as a vengeful God who selected men to do His work and overlooked women, Hannah’s story shows us that in reality it was the corruption of society at the time that gave us that impression, rather than any form of preferential treatment on God’s part!
‘Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk…’ (1 Samuel 1:13). Hannah teaches us that exalting the Lord doesn’t have to involve loud chants and grand gestures of animal sacrifice as was customary at the time. Hannah didn’t shout her prayers for everyone to hear her sophisticated use of language and correct use of set phrases, she prayed in (and from) her heart: a humble, intimate, personal relationship with God which didn’t require validation from anyone else.
When I was 5 years old at an Easter camp called Spring Harvest, I learned a song that taught me: ‘There’s nothing I can do or say to make God love me more… There’s nothing I can do or say to make God love me less’ (‘More or Less’, Steve and Kay Morgan-Gurr). In a society that viewed childlessness as the ultimate failure as a woman, Hannah’s rival (her husband’s second wife Peninnah) inevitably lauded her own success in childbearing over Hannah. And yet we are told that when their husband was dishing out the family meal, ‘to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her.’ (1 Samuel 1:5, NIV). Hannah’s husband’s love for her did not falter regardless of her inability to provide him with children. In the same way, our achievements make no difference to God! His love for us is eternally unchanging, no matter what we do or say in this life.
At risk of turning this into a walk down memory lane, another lesson I learned at around the same age was that ‘God has 3 answers to prayer: yes, no or wait.’ (‘Auntie Peggy’s Windmill’, Jennifer Rees-Larcombe). Although the waiting was painful for Hannah, God used it to bring her closer to Him than even the local priest, and ultimately produced a blessing out of it! In the times when we feel our prayers are not being answered, it is more important than ever to remain faithful to Him. God knows what is best for us better than we do, and will provide for us when the time is right. Had my parents given up that hope, neither I nor my sister would be here today – so I for one am thoroughly grateful for God’s track record of eventually coming up with the goods!