“Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on a chair by the doorpost of the LORD’s temple. In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD. And she made a vow, saying, “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.” 1 Samuel 1:9-11
Every year pressed grief deeper into Hannah’s heart. Most of the time she kept it locked inside working hard at the bland, happy face the world saw. Today was no exception. Hannah sat at the sacrificial meal in the place of favor nearest Elkanah. Again she stoically received a double portion of meat, meat that she could hardly touch. Sweet Elkanah’s misguided attempt to soothe the pain of her infertility and show the depth of his love instead brought her inadequacy and emptiness into stark focus. Another humiliation stuffed into her heart. Peninnah’s glare did nothing to soothe this. And the cycle of hurt continued as Peninnah responded by stepping up comments like “how good you children are at the table!” and “how like you our eldest looks and acts dear Elkanah – I couldn’t be prouder!”
Hannah disappeared into herself. Bodily present at the table, the heart of Hannah was locked away drowning in a pit of grief and sorrow that simply couldn’t be expressed in this place, at this time.
Finally, mercifully, the interminable meal ended. The ceremonial and social constraints of the sacrifice acted as emotional constraints as well because to Hannah’s dismay as it ended everything began to rise in her. Mouth watering nausea swept over her and the little bit of food she’d consumed threatened to come back up. She closed her eyes trying to get a grip and tears pressed against her lids ready to spill against her will. Hannah stood and unceremoniously left the table. She was done. She heard and saw nothing else as she stumbled the distance to the opening of the tabernacle of the Lord. She didn’t even see Eli, the priest of the Lord, sitting on a chair by the doorpost of the tabernacle.
Hannah fell against the opposite doorpost of the tabernacle and it was as if a dam burst. She stood there and rocked back and forth, tears streaming as she prayed the bitterness of her soul before the Lord. She groaned and rocked and sensed the very spirit breaking through and incoherently speaking forth her pain to the Lord. There were no words for what she felt and though her lips moved no sound came, only the bitter tears. Finally, into her spirit came the deepest, purest vow of her heart before the Lord, “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 life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”
Eli watched Hannah’s moving lips and groaning sounds with growing reproach and finally burst out “How long will you keep on getting drunk woman? Get rid of your wine!” Startled, impulsively, yet with downcast eyes, Hannah revealed her true heart to Eli, “Not so, my lord, I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”
Eli softened in light of her deep pain, a pain he had sensed year after year. He prayed earnestly over her “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” Such a simple prayer; a sweet blessing it washed warm over Hannah lightening her heart. Hannah raised her eyes to see Eli and then lifted them to the Lord adding her earnest desire to his prayer “May your servant find favor in your eyes.”
Strange how this complete and unashamed expression of her dependency upon God coupled with the blessing of God’s priestly servant on earth lifted her. A sense of peace covered Hannah and she went back to Elkanah and the table and all it involved. Her hunger stirred and she ate and was fully present to God and family for the first time in years. She knew God saw, heard, and cared.