Word for the Week
Short reflections on Bible passages, with a frontline focus...
In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. And she made a vow, saying, ‘LORD Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.’
So in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, ‘Because I asked the LORD for him.’
1 Samuel 1:10–11, 20
Every story about pregnancy and childbirth is different. Unique to each woman and unique to each child. The range of stories about pregnancy and childbirth in the Bible are no exception. But, as we’ll see across Advent, each story also shares similarities that weave them together.
Hannah’s story opens the book of 1 Samuel. Her life is one of deep trouble, gut-wrenching anguish, and hopeful faith. Hannah is one of Elkanah’s two wives, but she, unlike her counterpart, has no children. God’s sovereignty is the given reason for pregnancy or childlessness elsewhere in the Old Testament (Sarah, Rachel, and Leah). This is inevitably a source of tension between the two women. The reality of childlessness does not itself seem to be the cause of Hannah’s grief, though. Instead, it is the circumstances and responses of those around her, especially Peninnah, which result in her pain and outpouring to God.
In her anguish, Hannah turns to God. Her boldness in prayer is challenging and inspiring. She is honest before him, sharing the deep desires of her heart which have caused her such pain. She asks boldly for what she thinks she lacks. This is hopeful faith for a hoped-for baby. Yet, she does not withhold this hoped-for gift from God. She gives honour and glory to God in her commitment to give this child back to the Lord.
And God answers. Her pregnancy and childbirth are hoped-for and realised.
It might be that you can relate to Hannah’s story through a childlessness story of your own. Or it may be that there is deep anguish as you hope for something else: a promotion or recognition, a change of direction or career, a friend or partner, a home. Are there particular circumstances and social norms which make this situation more painful? Can you bring this to God in prayer and be honest about the hoped-for things of your life?
And if God gives you this hoped-for thing, how can you give glory back to God and name him as the one from whom all blessings come? But if this hoped-for thing remains hoped-for forever, how will you find peace knowing that you are God’s beloved child, and that God is mysteriously at work through even the deepest pain?
This Advent, friends, family, and neighbours will also have hopes. Perhaps our honesty, kindness, and peace will be the greatest gifts that we can offer.
Imogen is a curate in Trull and Angersleigh, and the winner of Theology Slam 2021
What are people on your frontline hoping for this Christmas? How is God calling you to respond? Join the conversation in the comments below.