What I learned from Hannah’s story

One of our pastors told us he had done a character study about Hannah recently and came away with a renewed admiration for this woman whose story is found in 1 Samuel chapters 1 and 2 in the Bible. My daughter was named Hannah which means “grace of God” in Hebrew because of the Biblical Hannah, a woman who struggled with infertility.  I identified with Hannah because I, too, struggled for years with infertility.  There was a time when doctors said we would never be able to have children.  A sympathetic friend said “no little girl grows up thinking she won’t be able to have children.”  How true for most of us who want desperately to be mothers.  We don’t just want to have children; we want to be moms with all that comes with that most important role.

Back then, before I was a mother, I had to read Hannah’s story several times before things starting jumping out at me.  One of the first things that hit me was her vulnerability to ridicule from Peninnah, her husband Elkanah’s other wife who had birthed sons and daughters.  I remember the feeling that something was wrong with me when someone would say they were pregnant and though I was happy for them, I felt as if I were deformed or lacking because I wasn’t pregnant and couldn’t seem to get pregnant.  It hurt terribly when people made comments that included words like, “you’re not a mother, …”, “when you have children of your own…”, or those who misused God’s own words by saying something about Him withholding this blessing because of sin in my life.  I cried buckets asking God to reveal to me what I was doing wrong.  One wonderful pastor’s wife, however, would tell me “when nothing makes sense, trust Him anyway.”  (Thank you, Jan!)   Because Hannah hurt in her infertility and God showed that hurt to me in her story, I felt better through my own pain.  Somebody did know what I felt, and that somebody was mentioned in the Bible. I was so thankful that her story, my story, was there and that God felt it was important enough, that the pain of being different from other women in that so very important way, was acknowledged.  I didn’t feel so alone in my hurt.    

I was then struck by Hannah’s absolute assurance that her prayer would be answered.  When Eli mistook her for a drunken woman because he saw her lips moving as she was silently praying in the temple and she then told him she was praying, he said, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”  What’s amazing to me is that Hannah did!  She went in peace…stopped fasting, stopped looking sad…because she believed with her whole heart that God would answer her prayer.  She didn’t know how or when or even if his answer was going to be exactly as she imagined it would be in her prayer, but she believed it would be answered and that was enough for her, immediately.  I remember thinking how in the world did you let go of something like your desire to have a child in an instant.  And then I looked deeper and realized that she, like I, needed that reminder…the reminder that God is powerful.  Why else would she pray to God if she did not believe he wanted to hear her prayer? And if she believed he wanted to hear her prayer, she had to believe he was willing to answer it.  And if she believed he was willing to answer it, she had to believe he was able to answer it.  And the only way he would be able to do that is if he is powerful to do anything, including opening the womb of a barren woman so that she could bear a child.  I started thinking big then.  I started thinking that maybe, just maybe, God had a plan for me to be a mother.  As much as I wanted to be pregnant and go through the feelings and physical experience of growing a child inside me and giving birth, I accepted that may not be his plan; I would be grateful to be an adoptive mom.

The third thing about Hannah’s story was the scariest.  As she prayed for God to give her a son, she said, “I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life” and then when he was weaned, probably about the age of four or five, she took him to Eli and left him to be raised for God by the priest.  Now wait a minute here, I thought.  How does a mother do that?  Not the give to the Lord or be raised for God part, but the physically separating yourself from your child and only seeing him one time a year the rest of his growing up years?  Would I be able to keep that promise?   Wouldn’t I say I didn’t really mean that part, God?  Wouldn’t I want to hold my baby every chance I could get until he was a man and I knew with all my heart I had given him everything I could for eighteen years to prepare him to be a man?  How could I kiss a four or five-year old goodbye and go home, knowing I wouldn’t see him for a year?  How could I let my little one go live with someone else?  How would I be able to explain that to him as he cried when I left, or how would I be able to live with myself as I lay in my own bed and cried thinking of him missing his mama?  Lord, I prayed, I don’t understand this. 

A couple at church lost their three-year old daughter in a drowning accident at about that time.  As the mother spoke during the funeral she said something that made it clearer than clear to me.  She said something like “God gave us our baby girl and she was always his.  I’m thankful for the time we had her with us.”

And also at about that time, we were looking into adopting and I was reading the stories of birth mothers who selflessly chose to place their children with others because they cared more about the life of their child being better than what they could offer than their own desires to keep that child in hardship circumstances. 

And I realized that Hannah not only kept her word to God, but she believed in his sovereignty.  She believed with every fiber of her being that the God who had given her this son was the Almighty.  How can you not trust the Almighty to take better care of your child than even you can?  She trusted him to do just that.  That more than amazed me…I coveted that trust.

As a Christian, I believe God breathes life into every child from the moment of conception because that’s the very start of that child’s life.  Human life doesn’t begin any other way and it doesn’t start before then and though the first breath is taken after birth, the growth and development, the changes, the miracle that makes that first breath possible starts at that point.  God says every child is a gift from him and the wonderful thing about a gift is that it is from a giver.  God is the giver of our children through birth or adoption, he is powerfully able to fulfill his purpose, and his sovereignty can be trusted because he is God.    

As each child came into my life, one by adoption, two by birth, I thanked God for the gift of their little lives.  I also acknowledged that they were his and have lived knowing that they are his, only mine for the season he determines.  In all stages in their lives, from infants to now as Hannah is driving herself around town, as Sam is in the midst of war overseas, and as Aaron is living with  risk and danger, I try to trust God with my children as Hannah did.  I pray for my babies, grown up as they are, and I thank God for the privilege of adopting, the privilege of experiencing pregnancy, the privilege of giving birth, the privilege of their very being.  And daily I give thanks for the marvelous privilege of God answering my prayers and making me their mother.

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