1 Samuel 1:1-26; 2:1-10 (Hannah)
For many of us, the experience of a hurting heart can be quite palpable, even after periods of tremendous growth and healing. Whether it be the shackles of pain that form in broken relationships or the worry that lingers in the midst of long seasons of waiting, the harsh reality of life circumstances may forever be etched in our memory. In time, we may say we’re healed…that we’ve let go… forgiven, only to find ourselves experiencing remnants of heartbreak at both unpredictable and inconvenient times. For only a split second, we may find our hearts conflicted again – transported back to the place where our wounds were first fresh and overwhelming. There, we’re faced with the truth that to some degree, we’re still living in “pain’s middle;” in that place where emotions hold us captive between what is and what we hope will be. Pain, in those moments, works to keep us stuck — wanting, waiting, and wishing. In that space, too, pain has the potential to birth a new season in us – one that allows our hearts to shift through surrender, sanctification, and supplication.
Now, maybe it’s my proclivity for positivity and perseverance that draws my heart to Hannah and her refusal to remain in “pain’s middle?” Maybe it’s her boldness to move, yet remain still in the midst of the tremendous agony of unanswered prayer? Perhaps it’s her respect for her husband’s second wife that makes me stand in utter amazement? Or maybe, just maybe, on the simplest level, it’s her decision to choose faith in spite of circumstances strong enough to bring any modern-day Superwoman to her knees? Hannah seems so pure, so good, so honorable. So complex and strong. She’s a thinker. A worshipper. An accepter of incidences. I wonder, how did she manage the pain and conflict inside her? How did she move through “pain’s middle” riding the waves of conflict threatening to engulf her while managing her own heart’s desires and those the Lord willed for her?
On many fronts, Hannah seemed stuck in conflict. Scripture shows us her relationships marred by tension, even the one she had with the Lord. Personally, she was barren. Her husband didn’t feel like he was enough for her in that barrenness, and his other wife (fertile beyond measure) could conceive and conceive many children. “How unfair!” Hannah must have thought? Even the priest at the temple quarreled with her, assuming that her moment of greatest distress was instead a moment of profound drunkenness. Peninnah. Elkanah. Eli. They all had their moments with this suffering woman – moments that demonstrated their jealousy, insecurity, and judgement. These were matters, not of Hannah’s doing, but matters that, nonetheless, bled into their space with her. Oh my – how their issues must have compounded the existing tensions of her heart! How did Hannah choose to be above it all? How were her words and actions seasoned with salt, and not sass? Humility, and not haughtiness? Truth, and not terror?
Scripture shows us that Hannah prayed. And she prayed. And she prayed. With supplication and surrender, Hannah prayed. She gave voice to the questions that arose in her heart, weeping. She demonstrated bravery, vulnerability… boldness in asking God for what she desired. And she worshiped. Hannah poured out her heart to the only God she believed in… each day, each month, each year. She trusted Him and allowed others to support her in the form of prayer and care. She chose to stay moving in life while she waited for the Lord to act in her circumstances. Hannah chose to live well. She acted in the way we all long to act in the presence of a God who knows our circumstances – in the presence of a God for whom nothing is too hard and for whose grace is as easy as His burden is light.
And in that living well, the Lord remembered Hannah, eventually giving her the child she so desperately wanted – the child she would so graciously offer back to Him. In this, we see Hannah’s heart truly poured out… positioned towards the Lord in praise. We see a woman who chose to proceed in life with a thankful heart that proclaimed the goodness of God before and upon her answered prayers. We see a woman who allowed God to be her strength – her rope of faith strong enough to withstand the tension of pain’s pull. God was the rope strong enough to withstand the breaking “Pain’s Middle” would have caused had Hannah done it alone.
We, too, like Hannah, can choose God. We can choose to move beyond “pain’s middle,” surrendering in relationship to the Almighty One. We can acknowledge our feelings while not allowing them to hold us captive, and we can choose to praise the Lord, instead of pitying ourselves and our undesirable circumstances. In short, we have more power than we may think or be able to see; for it’s God’s power within us that gives us our strength.
Friend, seek that power and hold onto it tightly. Allow God to transform your conflicted cries of desperation into heartfelt cries of devotion. Then, maybe then, we all will experience a new season – far away from the grips of “pain’s middle.”
More “Sister Stories” to be added over time.