Thursday, November 7, 2013

The God Who Hears

Today we continue our Empathy Series with a guest post from Brenda Wilkerson. I met Brenda in Story 101 and have enjoyed reading her blog ever since. This particular story wrecked me in all the best ways, and I am delighted to share it with you now. Please consider leaving a comment or visiting her blog to show your appreciation. 

The God Who Hears

My husband Elkanah extends his hand to me across the dusty path, and I realize he’s caught me weeping again. His eyes are full of love, though when he speaks, his voice is edged with frustration. “Hannah, my love, why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

It’s not the first time he’s asked, but I still don’t have an answer for him beyond a squeeze of his hand. For the past few weeks, my tears have hardly stopped flowing. My husband’s virile second wife has mocked my empty womb for years, but my endurance of her cutting comments has run out. The shame of betraying my agony in front of my rival isn’t enough to maintain my composure. My distress has even taken away my appetite, making this year’s pilgrimage to Shiloh for the sacrifice more difficult than usual.

Though Elkanah loves me tenderly and knows me inside and out, he will never understand this, a primitive grief for something I’ve never had in the first place. Behind me, I hear Peninnah mumbling insults. I close my eyes and pray for the journey to be over quickly.

***

At the feast, Elkanah gives me the choicest cut of meat as is his tradition. This public honor - despite my obvious failure to provide him with an heir - has always warmed my heart and given me fresh courage. This time, I am emboldened only to rise and flee to the temple, to plead with Yahweh again. All my life I have trusted in Yahweh, who has always provided for me… yet He remains silent in my barrenness. The waiting has stretched on and on, and now my time is short. Although He came through for Sarah and the other matriarchs of Israel, I know I am no one of consequence. I must learn to put away my stubborn hope and accept my lot.

Yet, still not ready to let go, I silently pour out my heart in the candlelight. If you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give me 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...

A deep voice interrupts my prayer. “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.”

Startled, I nearly shriek as I look up into the stern face of Eli, Israel’s priest and prophet. I must have been praying out loud, incoherently, to cause him to draw this conclusion. “Not so, my lord. I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord.” His expression softens, and I dare to press further. “Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”

He considers me for a moment before replying. “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”

At his words, the heavy weight on my soul lifts. It doesn’t make sense - nothing has changed - but I’m suddenly certain that Yahweh has heard me, and that is enough. “May your servant find favor in your eyes,” I reply gratefully, rising from the floor.

***

After we return home, I am different. Though we don’t talk about it, Elkanah is clearly pleased at the newfound peace in my demeanor. We laugh together again, and I feel eager for his touch. I try not to think about the future or Eli’s blessing, but take each day as it comes.

As weeks pass and I miss my visit to the red tent, my certainty grows. I’ve witnessed enough of Peninnah’s pregnancies to know the signs. At night, I lay awake weeping silently, new tears of awe and terrified hope. Finally I summon the midwife, and she confirms the miraculous news - Elkanah and I are to have a child at last. A son, I’m sure of it. Before he’s even born, I choose his name: Samuel, “God has heard.” My son will be living proof that Yahweh hears and cares for His children, even the most insignificant.

I always believed that I wouldn’t be valuable until I became a mother. But with the fulfillment of my hopes comes a new understanding of my value in the eyes of the One who created me. He has been merciful to me, and I will fulfill my promise to him.

***

This year’s pilgrimage couldn’t be more different from last year’s. I am a new woman in heart, soul... and body! Baby Samuel and I remain at home while the rest of the family goes to Shiloh. Elkanah is anxious about us staying behind, but I remind him that after Samuel is weaned, I will present him in the temple and he will live there always. From the moment I told Elkanah of my vow, his support has been unwavering. He agrees that this child of providence does not belong to us alone. But I guard this precious time with our son like a mother bear.

***

At Samuel’s weaning ceremony, we celebrate his good health and safe passage into a new phase of childhood. Yet I am not the only woman wiping away bittersweet tears. In his three short years, he’s charmed almost everyone in Ramah. Even Peninnah seems fond of him. But they all know that he’s promised to the priesthood, destined for a different life than he would have had in our village.

***

We are on the road to Shiloh again, this time with Samuel. He is curious about everything we see on the journey and what the temple will be like. I feel almost physical pain knowing that soon, someone else will be answering his enthusiastic questions. Though I’m thankful for his fearlessness about his new life, I wonder how I can possibly leave him behind.

After we present our sacrifice at the temple, Elkanah, Samuel, and I approach Eli. The old priest furrows his brow as he greets us, clearly trying to place me. I remember the despair I felt the last time I saw this man. It seems so long ago that I laugh. “Pardon me, my lord. As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord.” I place my hand on Samuel’s curly head.

“And He granted your request,” he replies, pleased.

“Yes. I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him.” Taking a deep breath, I continue. “So now I dedicate him to the Lord. For his whole life, he will be given over to the Lord.”

Elkanah and I exchange a look of sorrow and pride. I don’t feel the overwhelming peace that I felt before, but Yahweh has given me enough to get me through this moment. He has helped and remembered me, and I know He will continue to do so. Though I will miss my son every day, I will always be his mother. As Samuel grows up in the temple, he will also know where he came from. He is no ordinary child. I believe there are surprises and blessings in store for all of us. 

Hannah's story is based on the passage of 1 Samuel, Chapter 1.


Brenda Wilkerson lives in Memphis, Tennessee with her two cats. She pays the bills doing legal paperwork, but sets her writer self free at every opportunity. You can find her at a basketball game, in her garden, or with her nose in a book and a McAlister's sweet tea in her hand. She blogs about faith, relationships, reading, and domestic pursuits at idontstopbelieving.blogspot.com.

5 comments:

  1. Brenda, I enjoyed reading this very much! You really put yourself into it and became Hannah for a time. Beautiful post!

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  2. "I always believed that I wouldn’t be valuable until I became a mother.
    But with the fulfillment of my hopes comes a new understanding of my
    value in the eyes of the One who created me." I really love this line; really identify with it. Thanks so much for sharing this story.

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  3. Thank YOU for the motivation! :)

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  4. Wow! That was incredible, job well done, Brenda!

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