God led me to the lake after work this evening. It’s been so gray and gloomy that the sight of the sunlight still holding strong even after 6pm was too inviting to pass up. I knew it would be breathtaking on the blue water, and I wasn’t disappointed, though the wind driving the waves was still cold enough to take my breath away, literally. So I finished my evening breather in the car on the sandy hill, still close enough to see—and hear the waves.
I’d brought my Bible with me and I read from the beginning of 1 Samuel…finding many key elements in the story of the prophet, which was first the story of his mother Hannah. My heart lingered on the first chapter, where Hannah goes down to Shiloh (I love that name…it’s also the name of the historic park here in town!) and pours her heart out to the Lord regarding her hope for a son of her own.
I had been hoping for something to write for a couple weeks before this, and sitting there, reading, I finally found the Lord settling my heart on this passage as it relates to longing. Ladies, tell me if I’m wrong…but I believe that longing is bound up deeply in what it means to be a woman. Such hard-won joy and complexity in that word: longing. Even right now, it probably awakens something very personal, and perhaps painful, inside of you. Even when we are currently in seasons of abundance, basking in the fulfillment of many hopes and dreams, we still have longings inside us, for our eternal Home. C. S. Lewis famously said: “If we find in ourselves longings which no earthly thing can satisfy, it is because we were made for another world.” So until Heaven, longing is a part of living.
As I reread the story of Hannah, I found I was able to identify with her much more deeply now than I could before. My mind made mental snapshots of the important notes in her story.
She had a husband who loved her deeply, in spite of her distressed desire, though he was at a loss when it came to fulfilling it. Hannah’s desire for a son was, in her situation, impossible, but nevertheless, she thought about it day and night, to the point of letting it affect her sleeping and eating. The Bible says her situation went on “year after year,” and she “wept and would not eat” (7). The specific unmet desires in our hearts may not be impossible to fulfill, and yet how many times have we allowed our longings to “slay the appetite of our living”, as Jim Elliot once put it? Hannah’s distress even started to put strain on her marriage, as her husband wondered aloud, “Am I not worth more than ten sons to you?” I can almost hear the exasperation in his voice. When we are going through seasons of unmet needs or lack as women, it is important to have people around us (especially our husbands) who can provide encouragement or just a shoulder to cry on, but how often have we leaned too hard on others, expecting, even demanding, answers and relief that can only come from one place?
I don’t know how long it went on like this for Hannah before she did what she should have done—what we all should do in the first place.
“She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly…pouring out her soul to the Lord” (10, 15)
This is an old lesson for me, something that God has spoken many times in the course of my life, but I could feel God pointing it out once again through this passage. The best thing to do with negative emotions is to do what Hannah finally did—she “spoke out” her “anxiety and frustration to the Lord” (these are actual words that the ESV Bible uses in verses 15-16). And what was the result?
“She went her way and ate and her face was no longer sad” (18b).
I don’t think that this was because she suddenly no longer cared about having a son, but because she had given her longings to God, vexation and all, and felt Him pour into her. Somewhere between kneeling down on that pavement outside the temple and getting up again, she found God to be enough.
God had a beautiful message for her in the words of Eli the priest. And I believe it is a message for all of us women who long for so many things throughout our lives. Through her passionate tears, (what some people like to call “ugly crying” today), Hannah begged Eli the priest not to see her as a “worthless woman.” In context, she said this because the priest initially thought she was drunk and she was hastily trying to set the record straight. But when I read this, I immediately heard the voice of God saying: “I do NOT regard you as a worthless woman!” I believe this was a message He wanted me to share with anyone who is listening via this blog. Anyone listening and longing. It’s hard to say it out loud in these words, but let’s face it. Sometimes, we feel “worthless” or at least shamed by our anxieties or our unmet needs. Our culture exalts capable, “can-do” women who seem to have it all together and don’t need to burden anyone with their needs. Women who revel in their independence and don’t seem to struggle, outwardly at least. We’re supposed to be these pictures of capability and grace. (We don’t even need anyone in our lives telling us this. Our own minds are pressure enough!) But don’t fall for that. The enemy uses shame to keep you from the feet of your Lord, who is the only One qualified to help you out of your mess. But best of all—He comes and sits with you in your mess! While you’re hiding your anxieties and grief from everyone, thinking you can pull yourself together, He wants you to come to Him. He stands at the door of your heart knocking, with open arms, and His Longing is for you to let Him into your life, messy and cluttered as it is. He is the only One who can restore and heal.
And the next beautiful thing He said to Hannah? Well, Eli said it as a blessing: “Go in Peace. May the Lord hear your petition and grant your request” (17). But I heard it from the Lord as a certainty as I read. “I have heard your petition and granted your request.”
Will coming to God be the immediate spark that rights all your problems and gives you exactly what you want tomorrow? Perhaps not. But remember, God doesn’t exist within time. In His Mind, His Vision, His Will is already done. He sees our lives fulfilled, everything He planned for us accomplished. Amazing God! As often as I’ve refused to ask Him for help, or asked in completely wrong ways, He promises that He has heard me!
And so even now, when I can’t see my specific desires satisfied or the exact outline of how He will work everything out, I can trust that in His Wisdom and Kindness, it is done. Something is done. Something is coming to fruition. And if it’s not the way I pictured it…it’s better! That’s why Hannah could get up and go home with her husband, and eat, and no longer wear the pallor of sadness, even though she had not been promised a son…even though she didn’t see the fulfillment of her request yet. She was at Peace. Filled with His Peace.
And we can do the same, knowing that our God has remembered us! In the midst of longing, we can keep on living!