Hannah, Samuel, and Loss

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was no hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
Psalm 139:13-16

Her children will arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.”
Proverbs 31 28-19

Many of you know that my wife, Becky, and I have four kids. And if you didn’t know that, you do now! Many of you are also aware that before we had Ezra & Levi, we struggled to get pregnant. It was a journey that both Becky and I have shared about over the years through testimonies. The pathway to parenthood was a difficult one and because of that our children are daily reminders of God’s blessings and faithfulness in our lives. Something you likely don’t know is that we, like many couples, also experienced the pain of miscarriage. It is estimated that miscarriage impacts 25% of women at some point in their lives. But the sources that provide this information are quick to point out that there are many women who miscarry and don’t know it, so it is likely that the rate of miscarriage is much higher. This means that the number of women experiencing the pain of miscarriage is significant, both within the church and within larger society. But we don’t often speak about it. Within the church and within society, parenthood is celebrated, as it should be. However, families who are facing miscarriage or infertility often struggle in silence. Today we are going to look at the story of Hannah, how that speaks to this challenge, and how the Body of Christ can respond.

The Bible is full of passages about children. The Bible clearly states that children are a blessing from God. It tells us that he creates us as babies in our mother’s womb. It tells us that the children of our youth are like arrows in the hands of a warrior. So, if we believe these statements to be true, what does it mean for families who are facing miscarriage, infant loss, and/or infertility? We see a picture of what this struggle can look like in the story of Hannah. Hannah was the mother of the prophet Samuel. 1 Samuel tells us that Hannah was married to a man named Elkanah. Elkanah had other wives but he loved Hannah the most. Hannah was unable to have children. The Bible doesn’t tell us if she couldn’t conceive a child or if she couldn’t carry a child. What it does tell us is that this inability to enter motherhood created overwhelming and intense pain for Hannah. She was so overwhelmed with grief that when she was praying about it in the temple, Eli (the priest at the time) thought she was drunk. This is her reply to his accusation:

“Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied. “I am a woman with a broken heart. I haven’t had any wine or beer; I’ve been pouring out my heart to the Lord. Don’t think of me as a wicked woman; I’ve been praying from the depth of my anguish and resentment.”

She has been praying from the depth of her anguish and resentment. What a powerful statement. What a gut-wrenching statement. This is a pain and anguish that many women and their husbands know all too well. The pain of desiring parenthood but not having it. As you read through the Old Testament, there are plenty of passages the identify a person’s sinfulness as the reason for their struggles with pregnancy; however, that doesn’t appear to the case with Hannah. The text tells us that she and her husband were faithful in their sacrifices. There is no given reason for this struggle in Hannah’s life. But there is clearly a lot of pain for her and Elkanah. There is frustration and a sense of helplessness from Elkanah. This is something that husbands in these situations know all to well. This sense of not being enough for their wives and their own experience of the pain of loss. Fortunately, Hannah’s story ends joyfully. After she defends herself to Eli, he replies, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant the request you’ve made of him.” And God does. Hannah becomes pregnant with Samuel. After he is born, she dedicates him at the temple according to the Law and then, after he is weaned, she gives him to service at the temple. Later in 1 Samuel we find out the God continues to bless Hannah and she has 3 more sons and 2 daughters. Hannah’s story is one of deep pain, sacrifice, and ultimately joy. Not everyone is given this experience. Many families struggle with becoming parents and never achieve it. So as the Body of Christ, what do we do?

In Romans 12, Paul outlines some important aspects of how Christians are to live. He tells us to love one another deeply, to share with the saints in their need, and to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. He gives us a beautiful picture of Christian life together. One in which we care deeply for one another and share in one another’s joys and burdens. This is the response that we need when facing issues like miscarriage, infant loss, and infertility. The families facing these challenges need a community of people who love Jesus and love them deeply. A community where it is safe to talk about and pray about their painful and gut wrenching “anguish and resentment”. A community that is willing to sit with them in silence and mourn what was and what could have been. And a community that will shower them with rejoicing when a baby comes!! Christian life together allows us to share in one another's pain and in one another's joy. That has been my family’s experience here at Beacon. And it will hopefully be the experience of others who are facing similar challenges.

Josh Cervone