There was a ceratin man of Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, and Ephraimite. He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.
Elkanah comes from good stock. You can tell because his ancestry is listed in such great detail here. Jeroham, Elihu, Tohu, Zuph…the names were well rehearsed if you came from a family like Elkanah’s. This is a proud family, a good line. Elkanah’s role is to perpetuate the family name.
There’s only one problem: the wife he truly loves, Hannah, is barren (1 Sam. 1:5). Perhaps Elkanah took a page from Abraham’s playbook and took a second wife as a means of securing progeny. Whatever the case, the circumstances create a rivalry. Hannah is mocked openly by Peninnah (v6).
Elkanah doesn’t help matters much here. He turns to Hannah and says, “Am I not more to you than ten sons?” (v8). He doesn’t get it. In Elkanah’s mind, Hannah is free of the burden of producing a son. To him, Hannah should derive her value from her relationship with her husband. Elkanah fails to recognize the deep yearning within his wife for something more, the God-given instinct to embrace maternity. Hannah grieves for her barren womb. She mourns the loss of that which she has never even known.
I would suggest to you that Hannah’s grief is no less real than the grief of my friends who have buried children over the years. She weeps as a parent denied the privilege of holding their baby. She joins Rachel in lamentation:
A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more. (Jer. 31:15)
In her grief, Hannah instructs us. She turns to YHWH, appealing to His power to reverse her fortunes. “Hear my plea, O Lord. As you brought life from Sarah’s barren womb, will you not repeat your miracle for your humble servant today? Remove my affliction, Sovereign Lord, and grant me a son. If you would hear my humble prayer, then I pledge to give this child to You for Your purposes all the days of his life.”
I cannot begin to tell you how formative this narrative has been for my family over the years. Prior to my birth, my mother prayed the same prayer. As the story has been told to me, my mother struggled to become pregnant again after the birth of my sister. In fact, she was told she would very likely never conceive again. With the faith of Hannah, my mother steadfastly prayed for God to act and, I’m happy to say, the Lord heard her prayer. My mother prayed for a son that she could consecrate to the Lord for His purposes.
Roll the clock ahead to the present: my wife and I have three children of our own and I’m only now becoming aware of how difficult it must’ve been for both Hannah and my mother to follow through on their prayers. Sunny and I prayed for our children prior to their birth and we promised to give them over to the Lord once they arrived. Following the example of Hannah and my mother, we’ve learned that parenthood is an exercise in stewardship.
These aren’t “our” children, despite the language we often use.
These are precious souls that God allows us to shepherd for a short period of time.
Thinking of my own children in this way makes it a little easier to give them over to the Lord.
Emphasis on “a little”.
Because it’s natural to want to horde this incredible gift from God. To cling so tightly to these perfect amalgams of their mother and me. I talked with a Mom this week who was telling me about her daughter, who has committed to serving overseas on mission for the next 11 months. No breaks, no return home.
I asked, “What must that be like, as a parent?”
“Simultaneous joy and agony.”
Sounds like a pretty apt description of parenting, if you ask me.
In a culture that is kid-obsessed, I’m praying that the body of Christ can model God-honoring stewardship of these incredible little blessings. May we render unto the Lord that which already belongs to Him.