A few weeks after our second miscarriage, my husband and I were asked to speak at our church's women's retreat. Our topic: Hope. "Who are we to speak about hope," I thought. The hope that we felt at the first sign of a positive pregnancy test had been shattered just a week or two earlier. I felt that God was calling me to use my experiences of IF in our talk, but wondered how I might be able to relay my experiences without getting into specifics with a group filled with friends and strangers, from young adults to grandmothers. I also wanted to be able to make it through the talk without breaking down in tears! That was when I remembered the story of Hannah in 1st Samuel. Hannah's story has been a source of hope for many women facing IF. It is perhaps the most detailed accounting of a barren woman in the bible. We decided to speak about two women of hope: Hannah and Mary. I spoke about Hannah while my husband spoke about Mary. Here is a modified version of my sections of the talk.
Read 1 Samuel 1-2:11 and 2:18-21
What can we learn about hope from Hannah's story?
First, Hannah knew suffering but did not despair. Women and men of faith are not without problems in this life – Hannah bore the cross of infertility. In the time of Hannah:
- Infertility was looked on as a curse from God
- Infertility was always deemed to be the woman's fault
I am sure glad we don't live in Hannah's time! Many of these problems are the result of the society at the time, but infertility causes deeper sufferings that cut across the generations. Women facing infertility often experience a crisis of identity. They see the world through a different lens and it affects their relationships with their spouse, parents, friends, and God. Infertility can lead to questions about one's womanhood, vocation in life, future, etc. Women experiencing this barrenness of womb often feel anger, grief, longing, isolation, questions, struggles, and sorrow. Hannah's heart was nearly crushed beneath the weight of her grief.
Secondly, Hannah offered her suffering to the Lord. We know that Hannah maintained hope because she persisted in prayer. Those who have despaired stop praying, but those who hope continue to persist. Hannah remained faithful to the Lord – she kept visiting the Temple each year– she went after God. We sometimes feel that God knows the desires of our heart and that we should stop repeating the same petition, but the bible teaches the value of persistence in prayer. Hannah's prayer in the Temple this day was different – we know that as she prayed, she cried. When was the last time that you felt so strongly about an intention that you wept in prayer? That is truly reserved for our most heartfelt and desperate intentions. After offering her petitions to the Lord this day, Hannah felt changed. "Once I develop this holy virtue of hope within me, I shall know at last what it means to be free of fears and doubts. I shall then possess the peace of God." – Excerpt from My Daily Bread by the Confraternity of the Precious Blood
The third thing we can learn from Hannah's story is surrender to the Lord. First, she surrendered her future to the Lord through prayer. Hannah then kept her promise by offering God the gift her heart had so deeply desired. Hannah cherished her child in a unique way because of her difficult road to conception. But she did not hesitate in keeping her promise to the Lord. She offered her son to the Lord's service as soon as he was weaned. The perfection of the virtue of hope is a complete self-surrender to the Lord's wisdom in all matters. (My Daily Bread) Hope is an exercise in trust.
Finally, we learn from Hannah's story that God is generous. We often hear it said that the Lord will not be outdone in generosity and Hannah's story exemplifies this. Hannah gave the gift of her son to the service of the Lord; He then blessed her with three sons and two daughters. Samuel became an instrumental leader of Israel. He was a prophet who chose and anointed David as King. Hannah's experience of infertility drove her to a particular kind of prayer. Perhaps He was withholding His blessing because He held her in high esteem. God needed a child set apart and dedicated to the Lord's service. If Hannah had not experienced such a struggle to conceive, perhaps she would not have been so generous in offering her first born son to the Lord's service. Hannah was formed and changed by the cross of infertility.
Hannah teaches us to give praise to the Lord in all circumstances, even when our future seems uncertain. Hannah's story must have been familiar to Mary. Compare the Magnificat to "Hannah's Song," the words she prayed after bringing Samuel to the Temple.
"She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly." 1 Samuel 1:10
"Then the woman went her way and ate, and her countenance was no longer sad." 1 Samuel 1:18b
"And 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 him of the Lord.'" 1 Samuel 1:19b-20
"For this child I prayed; and the Lord has granted me my petition which I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord." 1 Samuel 1:27-28
- How does Hannah's story resonate with your own?
- In what ways do you see Hannah as a model of Hope?
- How is the Lord forming and changing you through infertility?
My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in the Lord. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in thy salvation.
There is none holy like the Lord, there is none besides thee; there is no rock like our God.
Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.
The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength.
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.
The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn.
The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts.
He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and on them he has set the world.
He will guard the feet of his faithful ones; but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might shall a man prevail.
The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven.
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed.