Lessons From Hannah
What are some ways you can encourage prayer in your home?
To where or to whom do you turn in times of disappointment? In her desperation, Hannah turned to the Lord in prayer. She was a godly influence on her son Samuel, whom God used to anoint the first two kings of Israel! We learn this week that God is faithful when we pray through challenges.
About This Journey
You’ve heard the saying that children are resilient. As a Military parent the only thing constant is change, so you must be more aware of your responsibility to make emotional and spiritual deposits into your family. Follow the stories of six people who were devoted to loving children and played significant roles in their spiritual growth for generations to come.
This Week's Readings
The Original “Mean Girl”
There was a man named Elkanah, from the tribe of Ephraim, who lived in the town of Ramah in the hill country of Ephraim. He was the son of Jeroham and grandson of Elihu, and belonged to the family of Tohu, a part of the clan of Zuph. Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah did not. Every year Elkanah went from Ramah to worship and offer sacrifices to the Lord Almighty at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the Lord. Each time Elkanah offered his sacrifice, he would give one share of the meat to Peninnah and one share to each of her children. And even though he loved Hannah very much he would give her only one share, because the Lord had kept her from having children. Peninnah, her rival, would torment and humiliate her, because the Lord had kept her childless. This went on year after year; whenever they went to the house of the Lord, Peninnah would upset Hannah so much that she would cry and refuse to eat anything.-1 Samuel 1:1-7
“Mean girl” is a pop culture term for bully. She is the girl who taunts and criticizes you, and may be nice to your face but vicious behind your back. You may think of encountering a mean girl only in junior high or high school, but mean girls emerge in every age bracket, every social status, in person and now online—and even in military spouse circles. A husband’s rank, a spouse’s involvement in the military community, child-rearing methods—all get their fair share of comments.
In her book Queen Bee Moms and Kingpin Dads, Rosaline Wiseman attributes the motivation of mean girls to the desire to belong. Wiseman writes, “I realized I had underestimated how powerfully parents’ social hierarchies influence how they guide their children’s lives. We don’t leave cliques and peer pressure behind when we grow up or when we become parents; we just graduate to a new level with adults playing the roles.”
In the first chapter of 1 Samuel, we encounter one of the original mean girls. Peninnah was one of Elkanah’s two wives. Remember, polygamy was a common practice in ancient Near Eastern culture, a culture that also measured a woman’s worth by her ability to have children. As mean girls will, Peninnah took every opportunity to make Hannah, Elkanah’s other wife, feel less-than. Peninnah used her children to elevate her own sense of superiority and lock Hannah out of the ‘mommy clique.’
I humbly confess I have had my share of mean-girl moments. I have boasted about my child when someone else was struggling with hers. With self-righteousness, I have shared how my parenting tactic succeeded when someone else floundered. I did not set out to be unkind, and I prettied up my statements with spiritual words. On reflection, I am sure my mean-girl moments came from a place of insecurity and pride. I make excuses for my wrong behavior: hormones, personality differences, or having a bad day, but I have no valid excuse for what amounts to being a bully.
Sister, let’s be on each other’s team. Let’s help each other be better wives, better moms, better women. Let’s live the words of Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
How can you put Ephesians 4:32 into action when you encounter mean-girl attitudes? What do you learn about kindness from Scripture (Luke 6:35; Colossians 3:12; Proverbs 31:10, 26)?
Lord, today may the teaching of kindness be on my tongue and in my actions. Amen.
An Unhappy Traveler
This went on year after year; whenever they went to the house of the Lord, Peninnah would upset Hannah so much that she would cry and refuse to eat anything. Her husband Elkanah would ask her, “Hannah, why are you crying? Why won't you eat? Why are you always so sad? Don't I mean more to you than ten sons?”-1 Samuel 1:7-8
I have traveled with some people whose company I was less than thrilled to share. However, I have never traveled with anyone who deliberately taunted and provoked me like Peninnah did to Hannah. The trip to Shiloh was a yearly event that brought Hannah to tears and made her lose her appetite. She must have dreaded the journey to the feast each year, listening to Elkanah’s fertile wife. I can hear Peninnah with an overly sarcastic tone going on and on about how perfect her children were, how favored she was to have children, how very sorry she was for poor Hannah. No wonder Hannah could not eat.
Hannah is one of many women in the Bible who struggled with infertility. If she lived today, statistics would inform her that she is among a group of over 10 percent of the population of child-bearing-age women. Even with today’s medical knowledge, having to emotionally process the diagnosis of infertility can be devastating to a woman. At the time Hannah lived, society placed great expectations on wives. Those who could not have children were looked down upon, and in the case of Hannah, sometimes verbally ridiculed.
The journey Elkanah made with his family was to be a joyful journey. For Hannah however, the trip only emphasized what she lacked. The question her husband Elkanah posed to her, “why is your heart sad?” is better translated, “why are you resentful and angry?” A part of me wants to commend Elkanah for his obvious love for Hannah, but there is another part of me that wants to say, “Really?” I am not quite sure how to take his response, “Aren’t I more valuable than ten sons?” I know he was trying to comfort her, but in my opinion, he missed the mark.
This time, family did not help. Peninnah deliberately pushed Hannah’s hot button on motherhood and Elkanah, though he tried, did not really understand. Hannah internalized the pain she felt from the helplessness and hurt brought on by her situation.
To her credit, Hannah looked to the Lord for help. God opened her womb and gave her a son whom she would hold in her lap only a few short years until she sent him to grow up in the service of the Lord. God could have healed the hurt in Hannah’s heart in a way other than the birth of a child. He knows what is best regarding all our personal struggles. Elkanah tried to bring his whole family together in worship, but Hannah needed something more. Just as the family altar is important today, it does not replace our personal relationship with, and devotion to the Lord. Hannah’s hope did not come from anything other than her dependence upon her sovereign and faithful God.
Read Psalm 13. What do you learn from this psalm about praying when things are difficult and challenging? How might this psalm translate into a prayer for someone struggling with infertility? Pray this prayer today for someone who is having a hard time becoming a parent.
Lord, “I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me” (Psalm 13:5–6). Amen.
A Prayer Meeting in the Temple
After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”-1 Samuel 1:9-11
My sadness for Hannah turns to respect as I read more of her story. Hannah decided she had felt sorry for herself long enough. She took her anger, bitterness, and discontent to God in prayer. The day she stopped to have a prayer meeting in the temple was a day that changed her life forever. She did not make a deal with God, manipulate him, or force him to bless her. No, she left her desperation at the altar, broke a cycle of despair, and rose up with newfound hope. Hannah spent years feeling that God was silent, but that day she rose from prayer with the words of a prophet spoken over her, “‘Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.’ And she said, ‘Let your servant find favor in your eyes.’ Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad” (1 Samuel 1:17–18).
In her desperation, she made a vow to God. If God would give her a son, she would give him back to God for service. Her request that God remember her was more than a reminder to God of her existence; she was pleading with him to act on her behalf.
Sister, does anything make you feel desperate today? Do you feel like the constant adjustments of military life are going to mess up your kids? Do you struggle to feel adequate in the sea of perceived perfect moms? Are you exhausted as you await a deployed husband’s return? Do you feel like you are swimming upstream in your effort to keep your preteen or teen on the right path? Oh friend, can I tell you that God remembers you? Be encouraged as you read the rest of Hannah’s story. She left that prayer meeting and traveled home with her husband. Scripture says, “the Lord remembered her. And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, ‘I have asked for him from the Lord’” (1 Samuel 1:19b–20).
Do not hesitate to call on the Lord. Regardless of what you face, spend time in prayer talking with God about the things that trouble you. The Word of God encourages us to cast all our cares on the Lord, because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). Did you notice in the Scripture recorded that when Hannah left the presence of the Lord, she ate some food and her face was no longer sad? She had not given birth, nor had she conceived. Yet in her heart, her faith had conceived the promise of God, and in due time the promise was born.
In her desperation, Hannah turned to God instead of away from him. What does that tell you about her? To whom or what do you turn when you feel disappointment?
Lord, I sometimes find it too easy to take comfort in things that are not emotionally or spiritually healthy. Thank you for the example of Hannah, who took her disappointment to you. Help me to put my faith in you, no matter the circumstances. Amen.
No Worthless Women Here!
As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.”-1 Samuel 1:12-16
Let’s revisit that prayer meeting in the temple. While she was praying, Hannah caught the eye of Eli, the priest. As Eli watched her, he thought she was drunk. However, Hannah was not pouring out drinks to abate her sorrow, she was pouring out her soul to God in prayer. Now comes one of my favorite scenes: Eli confronted Hannah with his assumption of drunkenness. She did not make excuses for her actions, nor did she lower her head in shame or embarrassment for being mistakenly deemed drunk. Instead, she honestly stated her situation and then made this powerful statement: “Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman.” Such boldness is not what I would expect from a woman who has been told she is worthless on a regular basis.
I have not experienced the desperation of barrenness or the incessant taunting of mean girls. My desperation has come from my own negative self-talk and the lies I willingly believed about myself and my ability to parent. The messages: “You are going to ruin your child … you are a terrible mother” have often reverberated in my mind. If I had been Hannah that day in the temple, I would have looked at Eli and said, “Yes, I am a worthless woman.”
Thank God, Hannah did not let her situation define her. Instead, she looked to God and held on to him in her time of sorrow. She found her worth in God. Take the time to read 1 Samuel 2 and be inspired by the words of Hannah’s prayer. She is the first and only woman in the Bible to speak a prayer and have it quoted in Scripture for us to read. Her prayer is one of a woman who knows God’s strength and power firsthand. She is one who persisted in prayer when it looked like nothing would change her condition.
God used Hannah to birth one of Israel’s godliest prophets. Her son Samuel would anoint and mentor Israel’s first kings. God delights in birthing greatness from the womb of despair. Only God knows the true value of an eternal soul. Even those who others assume as worthless, from a human estimation, God has validated worthy by sending his Son to redeem them. In God’s evaluation, they are priceless!
Read Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1–10 and list what you learn about Hannah’s belief in God.
Lord, I praise you with the words of Hannah: “There is none holy like the LORD; for there is none besides you; there is no rock like [my] God!” (1 Samuel 2:2). Because of Jesus, you call me worthy. I stand forever grateful. Amen.
For This Child I Prayed
"... For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.”
And he worshiped the Lord there.-1 Samuel 1:27-28
Samuel was ministering before the Lord, a boy clothed with a linen ephod. And his mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, “May the Lord give you children by this woman for the petition she asked of the Lord.” So then they would return to their home.-1 Samuel 2:18-20
When I read Hannah’s story I think of the many military wives who have sent not only a husband to war, but a child as well. A parent’s concern for a child’s safety does not end—no matter the age. Such concern was the impetus for a group of mothers to come together during World War II to form the Blue Star Mothers of America. This organization continues to provide support to parents with children in military service. The name originated from the Service Banner with blue stars hung in the window of a home. Each star represented a family member serving in war.
One military wife and mom I know sent her Ranger husband off on dangerous assignments many times. Today her oldest son has been in some challenging situations as an Army Military Intelligence officer and her youngest son serves with the Air Force’s Special Operations team. She said, “It feels different to have your children go through dangerous and difficult training and then be sent down range. I was always concerned for my husband, but I felt like he could take care of himself. My mother’s heart is inclined to protect and shelter my kids, no matter what age. I know my children serving in the military are very much the subjects of my prayers. I also know that their need for prayer has blessed our family in keeping us united in our concern for them.”
Hannah did not make and hang a Blue Star Service Banner in her window to indicate the service of her son in the temple. She used her sewing skills to make a robe she carried to him each year, demonstrating her love and concern. The robes met little Samuel’s need for clothing and warmth. Yet the robes symbolized so much more. They reminded Hannah of God’s answer to her desperate prayer and were a witness to the Lord that she had been faithful in keeping her promise to him. No doubt, Samuel was reassured that his mother thought of him often and loved him very much. I can also imagine that Hannah told Samuel something like, “Every day when you put on this robe, remember how special you are to me and to God. You are a blessing!”
The Bible does not record how many years Hannah brought Samuel a new robe. I would guess as long as she was able. How long do we hold our children up before the Lord in prayer? Let’s continue as long as we can formulate a thought and take a breath.
The robes Hannah made for Samuel were a symbol of answered prayer. What might be a symbol of answered prayer for you as a parent? What are ways you communicate to your child the blessing from God they are to you?
Lord, help me find ways throughout the day to share the blessing my children are to me. Thank you for the gift of children. Amen.
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