A woman, desperate for the one thing she can’t have, implores her God, and when she receives her heart’s desire, hands it all back to him.
Faith. It’s a funny thing. It can grow, be lost, be found, shape, transform, be betrayed, help us, harm us, kill us and bring us back to life. Humanity kills and wars over it, battles for that of others, manipulates and relies upon it, and uses it to get what it wants. Yet it is one of the most important parts of the human experience. Without faith in something, we are nothing. Without the faith that the sun will rise tomorrow, we dare not sleep lest tomorrow never comes at all. Without the faith that good will overcome evil, we dare not step outside our doors, read books, watch television, live in community. Faith shapes all that we do, even for those who say they have no faith. We all have faith in something.
Heartache and yearning. It is a rare person who has not felt one or the other. From a young age, we face disappointments and sorrows. The beloved grandparent/neighbour/pet hamster dies. We don’t get the Birthday present we wanted. Our friends hurt us. The person we thought we loved didn’t love us after all. The job we worked so hard to get didn’t work out. Our child is lost. There isn’t enough money left at the end of the month for what we want or need. Our trust is broken.
Hannah desperately wanted a child. Her husband’s other wife had borne several children, and rubbed it in Hannah’s face. Their husband may love Hannah more, but Peninnah was the one who was having his babies – Hannah obviously wasn’t doing something right, Hannah was cursed, Elkanah didn’t really love her if he couldn’t get her pregnant, Hannah was a disappointment, she wasn’t a real woman because she was barren. Just imagine getting that much spite in your home, and then going out into the community and seeing the pitying looks on the faces of all the other women, thinking many of the same things that Peninnah had spat in Hannah’s face in her spite. No matter how much Elkanah told and showed her that he loved her, Hannah still yearned for a child of her own, not to be nanny to her step-children.
Desperation brings even fervent non-believers to prayer. Lord, let them live. God, if you’re there, fix this. Save me. Please don’t let him leave. God, stop this horror around me. Help them. Help me. Give me courage. I need this. If I make it out alive, I’ll go to church. End this pain. Are you there God? Why is this happening? What now?
Hannah went into the Lord’s house and prayed. And wept. Bitterly. She asked her Lord for her heart’s desire – a son – and promised to give him back to the Lord. She prayed and prayed in her heart, her lips moving but no sound coming out. In the corner sat one of the priests, an old man with two sons who were as wicked as the day was long. Eli was outraged that someone would come into the Lord’s house drunk, and confronted Hannah. Shocked, she explains her sorrows to Eli, and he blesses her. She and her family leave the following day, and the Lord answers her prayer. She has a son, naming him Samuel, because the Lord heard her prayer. Once he is weaned, she takes him to Shiloh, back to the Lord’s house and entrusts him to the care of Eli and the service of the Lord.
If someone gave you a fantastic gift, how willing would you be to give it back to them? I know I couldn’t, not easily. Now imagine that thing is your child, and you’ve wanted nothing more than to be a parent. I can only imagine the pain that Hannah felt with her sacrifice. And yet, she freely and joyfully dedicated her son to the Lord, and saw him only when their family visited Shiloh for the annual sacrifice. How often do we give of ourselves and the things we cherish, perhaps more than life itself? How often is our giving generous and with joy?
As a student and in my gap year, I had very little money after the rent and the bills were paid, every penny taking me further into my overdraft. I was also very often ill, and spent most of second and third years of university in bed. My family were incredibly generous to me, keeping food on the table, but it remained, my overdraft became my dearest friend, and pyjamas my most worn clothes. When I had little, all I could do was pray and hope and trust that I’d be able to afford what I needed and manage to do the important things. And yet, I couldn’t help being generous. I’d pick up a bag of chocolate for my church group, or wash the dishes for my housemates. I handed out water bottles to people coming out of clubs, and baked cakes for friends. God called me to give back everything I had, to give of the bare minimum I possessed. He called me to give of my time, of my money, and of my heart. Even when we weren’t on the best of terms, He would guide my heart to give, to sacrifice.
Hannah’s desperate prayers for her heart’s desire led to her giving the greatest thing she could claim, her son, and her sacrifice gave Israel one of its greatest leaders – the last of the Hebrew Judges, and the first of the Major Prophets. Whilst our prayers and sacrifices may not shape nations and history, they are important all the same. For we all have people spiting us and things that break our hearts. We all yearn for things, and we all cry out to God in our most desperate times. And God, in His faithfulness answers. All we have to do is decide what to do with our answers. Do we keep the gifts we are given to ourselves, or do we dedicate what we have to the Lord, and share with others the good things He has done for us?
Hannah’s story reminds us of the faithfulness of our God, and calls us to respond to it with our whole hearts. It calls us to be generous with even the things we hold dear to our hearts, to give even when it is hard. All we have belongs to the Lord.