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Stories from a life in progress.

What Hannah wanted

Last week I read the story of Hannah at the beginning of 1 Samuel.  I won't recap everything, but here's the setup: Hannah is miserable because she wants something she can't get.  She has a rival who needles her for this lack at every opportunity.  She has a husband who cares, but who can't really change her circumstances.  Hannah lives in the midst of a hopeless, distressing situation for many years.

The thing Hannah wants is a child.  Hannah is a barren woman in a place and time when that was considered a serious social disgrace and cause for shame, as well as a deep source of personal pain.

I don't want what Hannah wants.  But I do want things.  I want a real career, not my fumbling attempts to write things and get paid for them.  I want very much to find a school for graduate level work in biblical language and culture.

If I'm honest, I feel pretty hopeless about those things actually happening.  I have no idea how to bring them about.  I don't have the resources and I don't have the courage to go find them.  So the story of a hopeless woman captures my attention.  I relate to Hannah at the start of this story.  Which makes what happens next even more compelling.

Every year Hannah's family traveled to the location of the Lord's house for worship and sacrifice.  One year, after the sacrifice, she stood up out of her misery and went to the door of the sanctuary, where "In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord."  She opened up the reservoirs of pain and misery and poured all of it out, right before the Lord at his tabernacle in Shiloh.

The story does not tell us all the content of Hannah's desperate, hard prayer.  What it tells us is her conclusion:

"O Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon 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."

It looks on the surface like she's bargaining with God to get a son.  But she isn't, not really.  This prayer shows that she is no longer hoping for a child to change her life and rescue her from disgrace.  If she does bear a child, she promises to turn straight around and dedicate him back to the Lord -- she won't get to raise him, cling to him, stand him up in front of her rival or all the busybodies in her community and say "See?  SEE?  I'm just as good as you are, I have a child too!"

This is what Hannah's prayer is really saying:  If you remember me, Lord, that's enough.

If you see me, Lord, that gift is worthy of the best thing in my life to give back to you in gratitude.   If you give me a son, he will be the very best thing in my life and I will give him to you.  If I never have any child, I will simply honor you with all of myself, because it's what I have.

Hannah no longer hopes for a child to rescue her from disgrace.  She has placed her real hope in the Lord, in the fact that he sees her and cares about her, and that rescues her from misery.  The story records no direct answer from the Lord at that time, though the priest at the temple blesses Hannah and says, may the Lord grant your request.  But her depression and heartache are immediately lifted.  She goes back to her family and gets on with her life, before she ever has an inkling that she will indeed bear a child.

If you remember me, Lord, that's enough.

I feel like I should know this better than Hannah does.  She knew the general promises of God; I know the resolution of those promises.  Hannah knew the Lord had promised to establish her people, the children of Israel, and someday bless the whole world through them; I have seen the impossible lengths to which God would go to keep this promise.  I ought to KNOW I am remembered and cared about, but it's not real enough to me yet.  I don't understand this like Hannah understood.

If you see me, Lord, that's enough.

If you remember me, Father, I don't need a successful career to rescue me from shame in the eyes of my work-and-power-driven culture.  If you see me, Jesus, I don't need to have formal degrees to prove my smartness, which I have always relied on for respect, attention, and love.

If you remember me, that's worth the best thing I can give back to you in gratitude.  If I am given a career, I will dedicate it to your service.  If I am accepted for graduate school, I'll apply what I learn wherever you want me to.  If I am not given those things, then I will just give you myself, because even this very life is a gift and I don't have anything actually big enough to say thank you for it.

If you see me, Jesus.  If you see me.

Whether or not I really get it, Hannah's right.  That's enough.