Up until recently I was wildly unaware of Hannah’s (or Anna) Biblical story. She is only discussed in two chapters of the Bible, which makes this astounding woman easy to overlook! You can read her story in the First Book of Samuel chapters 1 and 2.
Hannah was married to Elkana, who had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah had many children, but Hannah had none. She was infertile. Infertility is discussed frequently within the pages of the Old Testament. It’s unique pain and loneliness are powerfully etched out in women like Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca, and also, Hannah. These women knew suffering, and Hannah is by no means exempt.
Peninnah provoked Hannah and jeered at her because the Lord “had closed her womb” (1 Samuel 1:6). Hannah was miserable. She would weep her heart out in agony, while Elkana attempted to comfort her stating that their spousal love was worth more than her pain of infertility. While it’s easy to be moved by the immense love Elkana had for his wife, it’s important to note that Hannah’s pain was still excruciating. Infertility is isolating. Plus, she had to share her husband’s love. And while the vindictive co-wife was getting pregnant, Hannah was barren. It would be near impossible not to compare and feel profoundly unworthy, especially considering that in the Old Testament, fertility was a sign of God’s favor.
Hannah prayed for a child. Ardently. She prayed, bawling and pouring out her soul to God. She vowed to give her son to God if he so blessed her with one. The priest, Eli, oversaw this and instead of taking pity on her, he believed she was drunk! Yes, I did a double take when I read that. Doesn’t everyone have weepy conversations with God at least once in their life? As if Hannah’s life isn’t difficult enough, the priest believed she had been acting frivolously!
But Hannah, with a clean conscience explained, “Not so, my lord: for I am an exceedingly unhappy woman, and have drunk neither wine nor any strong drink, but I have poured out my soul before the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:15).
Hannah’s prayers for a son were answered, and she kept her vow. As soon as she had weaned him, she took him to Eli and dedicated his life to the Lord.
There are so many wonderful things we can glean from her story. Here are five important lessons I’ve taken away from spending more time with Hannah from the Old Testament.
Dealing With Everyday Trials
Hannah knew suffering. She lived with it. Year after year, her womb remained closed. She was taunted and bullied, not by her friends but by the woman who shared her husband. I can’t even begin to imagine what that must have been like. Wouldn’t she have been wildly jealous? Did she always feel a need to compare herself to another woman? Did she think she wasn’t good enough?
Hannah is immediately relatable because she dealt with worry, longing, and probably questioned her own worthiness. But Hannah owned her trials; she didn’t run away. And this is a powerful lesson. She bore it, and in doing so she had the love of her husband to support her and cherish her.
Conversely, Peninnah clearly had bigger issues gnawing away in her own heart because even though she was fruitful and had many children, she couldn’t find it inside herself to show compassion and support to Hannah. Instead, she made herself a bully and taunted Hannah relentlessly. She had to hit Hannah where it hurt.
I think it’s interesting that we never encounter Hannah telling Peninnah off. We never see her telling her to shut up or worse. She’s not an “advocate” for herself, but rather turns to God to be her Advocate. That is not to say we shouldn’t stand up for ourselves, but rather that it’s more important to depend on God, understand that our worth comes from him, and that he is with us in our sufferings before we act out in anger or hurt.
Encountering Demeaning or Even Nasty Comments
“Are you drunk?!” When Eli questions Hannah’s sobriety, my heart just breaks for her. There she is, crying out to God and the priest believes she’s been imbibing. “Are you serious?” I found myself crying out as I read.
But how does Hannah respond? “Not so, my lord.” She is calm and gentle. She shows no trace of defensiveness or embarrassment or even annoyance. She is gracious and honest. She informs the priest that she is praying to God for a son and that she is deeply unhappy.
This part makes me think a lot about social media conversations. Sometimes people boldly question our integrity or accuse us of all kinds of things because it’s the internet and that’s what happens. It’s easy to respond defensively, in anger, or even with a bit of condescending sarcasm. “Uh, who do you think you are?!”
Hannah could very easily have been frustrated by the question, or even embarrassed. She could have given up on her prayer and just walked away feeling like a total failure.
Nope. Not Hannah. No crazy reaction, no shame, no anger, just honesty and grace. That’s real strength.
What Is Your Motivation
How in the world does Hannah act so graciously? She is deeply unhappy and has been mistreated for years by Peninnah. Wouldn’t she be totally justified if she acted out in anger or frustration? Oftentimes, we may want to excuse our less than favorable actions because we feel hurt, wounded, or angry. However, Hannah is never seen responding in anger. Why? Hannah is motivated by faith.
This is made clear by the fact that when she finally has a son, she doesn’t go back on her vow, rather, she joyfully gives him to God. Her faith motivates her to trust God and receive his love. In doing so, she opens her heart to real, sacrificial love, as God opens her womb. She isn’t motivated by insecurity or fear. She isn’t despairing in her trials and she isn’t vain. She is filled with faith.
In our own lives, what motivates us? Are we seeking our own glory? Do we act for our own vanity? When we are motivated by faith, we recognize that our faith can overcome anything because God can overcome anything. In that, we find peace and confidence. We are reminded that God is with us; we are in his presence. Faith gives us courage, even in the midst of trial. It gives us strength to act with compassion and grace, even when we are wounded. Just like Hannah.
Process Your Emotions Through Prayer
Our emotions are neutral things. If we learn to properly wield them rather than stunt them or let them go rogue, they become good and beautiful tools. I love that Hannah allows herself to feel her pain and sorrow. She doesn’t try to bottle it up, and she doesn’t let it run wild. Instead, she goes to the temple and processes her emotions with the help of God. She uses prayer to help her come to terms with what it is she is feeling.
In our own life, it’s easy to mishandle our emotions, but it’s important that we process them. If we ignore this, we often become emotionally stunted. Crying over spilled milk and flying off the handle or veering towards stoicism. These are unhealthy ways to navigate emotions. We need to order them, and we can only order them if we take the time to pause and process, instead of just reacting.
Prayer is a beautiful way to process our emotions; we can call upon the Holy Spirit to help guide us, and we can turn to Christ for understanding, for in his humanity, he dealt with emotions. He can teach us how to order ours.
Give God the Glory
Hannah’s story is not all sorrow; ultimately, her story is one of glory. She gives birth to a baby boy, Samuel, and she proceeds to rejoice in God.
She loves God so much that she is completely selfless in being made a mother. She gives her son to God in perfect sacrificial love. In doing so, she is filled with joy and praises God.
When she prayed for a son and vowed to give Samuel to God, she wasn’t bribing him, but rather stating that she chose to be selfless in the reception of a baby, and would continue to receive and give love to God.
Hannah goes on to have three more sons and two daughters. She is truly a woman of great faith, which goes on to be matched by great joy.
“There is none holy as the Lord is: for there is no other beside thee, and there is none strong like our God” (1 Samuel 2:2).