A fall day. In the cool afternoon, throngs of people move about Israel's tabernacle in Shiloh. For centuries, this sacred tent has been ground zero for the nation's annual ceremonies of worship to God.
The Feast of Tabernacles is particularly joyful as the people remember God's faithful provision to them. They bring sacrifices to express their gratitude. Once the sacrificial portion is given, there is much meat to be shared. Family reunions are organized. Laughter and good-natured shouts abound.
But not for one young woman.
You can see her there at the tabernacle's perimeter, alone among the crowds of Israel's pilgrims, shoulders dipping ever so slightly, chest catching in suppressed spasms of sorrow. She holds her hands out plaintively. She continues praying, trying to couch her agony in words. But there are none to adequately express her pain, so her mouth moves silently.
The high priest takes notice. Eli approaches the woman. Will he pray with her personally? What words of encouragement will he offer?
“Don't you have more sense than to show up drunk at God's house?!”
Amazing insensitivity. But perhaps not surprising from a man whose sons desecrate their holy office by sleeping with women bringing sacrifices to the tabernacle.
Things are bad ... and getting worse
Hannah lived in troubled times. The Philistines were the current overlords in the land; Israel had been the vassal of one nation or another for much of the previous four centuries.
On the home front, Hannah endured a heartbreaking transition in her marriage. She was apparently the first wife of Elkanah. All indications are Elkanah loved Hannah dearly. But in Israel continuing the family line was a culturally imposed imperative.
Hannah was barren.
Elkanah married Peninnah, who mothered a profusion of sons and daughters. Had Peninnah accepted her blessed position gracefully, Hannah could have suffered in silence. But Peninnah's ego wasn't satisfied unless she publicly humiliated Hannah.
Elkanah's solace was welcome but incomplete. “Am I not worth more to you than 10 sons?” he asked. Wouldn't she rather have heard “Are you not worth more to me than 10 sons?”
This was a devout family. They journeyed regularly to Shiloh to God's tabernacle to present offerings on behalf of every member of the family. Elkanah gave Hannah a “double portion” to sacrifice, evidence of his continued love. But Peninnah always found a choice moment for another carefully phrased verbal lancet.
Hannah, in desperation, stood at the tabernacle's perimeter and prayed out of her anguish. She called on God to give her a son.
In return she would dedicate that child to God's service.
Even the worst can point to God's best
Perhaps your life is in turmoil. Perhaps Mother's Day reminds you of heartache rather than joy. Is there a husband who doesn't understand you? Family members who seem to delight in your every shortcoming? Do you find even church has failed to bring the comfort you crave?
When all the expected sources of solace failed Hannah, God intervened. God gave Hannah not just any son, but Samuel, the son who would lead Israel in victory against the Philistines and anoint Israel's first kings. Other children followed. Hannah became a mother revered in Israel's history.
Hannah's exultant prayer in 1 Samuel 2:2-10 admits life is often tumultuous. But in the end, the person who trusts God will triumph.
“My heart rejoices in the Lord; in the Lord my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance.”
Hannah wanted the world to know God had made her dearest dreams come true. Yes, if you looked into Hannah's history just a few years deeper you found a woman on the verge of emotional collapse. If Hannah had tried to sing then, it would have been a dirge. But God changed everything.
In our darkest moments God must remain our focus. His eternal perspective is our tether to ultimate purpose when our circumstances scream chaos.
The day came when Hannah could proclaim God's goodness not only in her life, but in all of life. Her words sing from Scripture 3,000 years later.
So take heart. If this Mother's Day is overshadowed, don't lose hope. God shaped a nation through one young woman's shattered life. He can transform your pain into promise as well.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the Pentecostal Evangel.