Why I am Thankful for Hannah
Years ago my wife and I went through a season dealing with infertility. It was one of the most painful seasons of our life and marriage. I was deeply humbled by how unprepared I was to care for my wife in this season. That is why I am so thankful for the story of Hannah in the Bible (1 Samuel 1).
From the Admont Giant Bible, Salzburg, around the middle of the 12th century, depicting scenes from the life of Hannah. On the left, the childless Hannah is weeping; beside her stands Peninnah, Elkanah’s second wife, cradling an infant in her arms. Within an architectural surround of towers and a gable, Hannah places a young bull on the altar as a sacrifice
Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation. Then Eli answered, Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him. And she said, Let your servant find favor in your eyes. Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad. —1 Samuel 1:16–18
Hannah taught me that it is natural for a woman to desire to have children. Woman all around the world can relate to her. My wife painfully longed to be a mother. Initially I didn’t know what to do with her emotional response to not being pregnant. To me it seemed so disproportionate to how I felt. I was a little disappointed but it didn’t seem like it was that bad. Some days I wanted to tell her to just stop because it was hard for me to see her grieving over not being able to have children. More than that, she was making my life more difficult. I tried to tell her that it would be alright. I tried to fix it. Then I tried to tell her to stop being so emotional. That didn’t work and she got more emotional. I tried again and again and she got angry at me. Rightly so. I felt like Hannah’s husband, who said to her: “why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” That approach didn’t work in Hannah’s day and it still doesn’t work today.
It was hard. There were lots of tears and anger and confusion.
Ultimately Hannah taught me that God places this burden and passion within His daughters to have children. It is God’s design for man and woman to be fruitful and multiply. Infertility struck at the very core of who God made my wife. I also learned during this season that the pain of infertility is more devastating than most people realize. Kimberly Monroe writes,
“In one study, 63% of women who experienced both infertility and divorce rated their infertility as more painful than their divorce. In another study, women who experienced either chronic or life-threatening diseases ranked the emotional pain of infertility at similar levels to that of terminal illness.” —Journal of Biblical Counseling, The Bible and the Pain of Infertility
In the end I learned that though it is painful God had great purposes in it. Our prayers were never more desperate than they were in that season. God was making Himself known to us in the pain and heartache. He revealed to us that He gives and He takes away but He gives Himself to us either way. In Hannah’s experience he eventually gave her Samuel and she eventually gave him back to God. In our experience we adopted our first two children who we are more than convinced were God’s provision for our family.
I slowly (very slowly) and imperfectly (very imperfectly) learned to sit with my wife in the pain and to pray. My best response was doing like Eli and sharing her desire that she experience peace and the answer to her prayers (1 Sam 1:17). And ultimately, that she experience God as her portion no matter what.