Proverbs says that not getting what you want, can make you feel sick. Ask any woman who desires children if this is not true? The agony of infertility is in the dashing of hopes on a regulated basis. “Well, maybe next month,” becomes the motto for a barren woman, and the hope cycle begins anew. A childless woman is marked by dissatisfaction. I’ve never experienced this intense longing for kids, but I witness the sorrowful toil it brings on those around me.
Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel, was infertile. Her desperation for children sent her into depression. She cried, lost her appetite, and felt heartbroken. Even though she had a loving, supportive relationship in her marriage, she could not find peace. On a yearly holiday to the temple (the place of worship for the ancient Jew), her depression clouded her sense of restraint. She poured her pain out in prayer.
“Give me a son, and I will give him back,” she bargained with God. Sobbing, rocking, and silently mouthing the words, she begged the Lord not to forget her and to take pity on her misery. Her strange behavior was mistaken as drunkenness by the priest.
“Sir, please don’t think I’m no good!” Hannah answered. “I’m not drunk, and I haven’t been drinking. But I do feel miserable and terribly upset. I’ve been praying all this time, telling the LORD about my problems.” (CEV)
The text gives no indication that Hannah received a special word from the Lord in response to her emotional plea. Eli, the priest, says a blessing over her, but it is a common response to a petitioner; it is not a promise of favor. Yet, Hannah regained her appetite and her expression changed. She left for home no longer acting depressed. In due time, Samuel was born. True to her vow, Hannah returned the young boy to the temple to live out his life in service to God, away from her.
As I re-read this story and browse different versions of her prayer in the next chapter (Side note: its amazing that the ancient text records a woman’s prayer!), I wonder if this story provides an example worthy to imitate? As stated in my previous post, there is nothing new under the sun. Even in our age of fertility science, barren women still cry out to the Lord for children. They can identify with the anguish of Hannah. But what if the Lord answers their prayer with more waiting and anticipation, but never with a son? Does that mean they misapplied the incantation of Hannah in getting what they wanted? Are they doomed to feeling dissatisfied and depressed? Is that really what Hannah’s story is all about? How to bargain with God?
Hannah is refreshingly human. Just like me, she’s a mess! Misunderstanding that she does everything right in this story, we mistake her weakest moment, bargaining with God, as a prayer of faith to emulate. We think the way out of our depression is to get what we want! Isn’t that how Hannah’s depression was lifted? We can waste away, pining after what we don’t have; squandering a joyful, fruit-filled life on miserable dickering with the Almighty.
Thinking negotiation in prayer is the key, we miss her true strength – her faith in returning home with a transformed attitude, still waiting for God’s answer. No, let me rephrase that. She went home determined to be content with whatever God’s answer would be. She was at ease because she trusted her heart’s most natural desire to the loving will of the Father. This is evident when she takes Samuel to the temple to leave him as apprentice. She rejoices! She is leaving her son and yet is happy. Her depression doesn’t return! She has learned that God is in control however dark the circumstances seem to be.
Hannah struggled with depression because she could not have children, but she conquered her depression before God granted her children.