Walk of Heart-Ache


1 Sam 1:2 There was a certain man …..whose name was Elkanah …..He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.

This series is about walking, and there was one particular walk that Hannah had to do every year that accentuated her position and increased her heart-ache. The story involves an Israelite who had two wives. Not a good start! In the early days of Israel, monogamy was not required – consider how many wives Solomon had and the trouble they caused him! Two wives mean shared affections and breeds grounds for jealousy and competition. The ‘competition’ between Peninnah and Hannah was over child-bearing (as it had been between Jacob’s wives). Hannah is childless while Peninnah has sons and daughters (v.4) – she was fertile! Each year the whole family would trek to Shiloh, where the Tabernacle of God was located, to make offerings to the Lord. Elkanah, the husband, tried to show Hannah that it didn’t matter and that he loved her, by giving her double portions each year at the sacrificial feast, but that only seemed to make it worse. Peninnah, perhaps jealous of Elkanah’s attention of Hannah, used to make comments about Hannah’s infertility, in front of her.

Thus the annual walk to Shiloh probably became a walk to be dreaded, a time when Hannah’s infertility became even more obvious. Imagine them all getting ready for the journey, all the noise and bustle of Peninnah’s side of the family getting ready – and Hannah alone.

How many of us seem to be trapped in circumstances beyond our control, where again and again we have to go through family or work rituals that only accentuate our painful situation. The pain of childlessness is perhaps one of the worst anguishes to cope with, especially for the wife. Here she is with a body designed to carry new life, and month by month nothing happens. Every month becomes a time of dread. Like Hannah you may be godly and gracious. You know the Lord, love the Lord, serve the Lord, but still, despite praying, nothing happens. Maybe your husband is praying and still nothing happens (Isaac prayed for 20 years for Rebekah before she conceived – Gen 25:20,26). That almost seems to make it worse. At times this particular heart-ache seems almost impossible to bear.

Perhaps there are other circumstances where, perhaps a brother or sister seems more favoured than you and year by year the differences are accentuated by comments made about the more clever, or more handsome or more beautiful brother or sister. There is nothing said maliciously but the hurt is there nevertheless, and it seems that nothing you can do can change it.

What hope is there in these situations? God! From your painful perspective it may seem trite but that is the answer. No, I don’t know why it happened or why it has dragged on for so long, but one thing I am sure of, that the faith I have speaks of a God who again and again and again comes into the situation where death is reigning and brings life. Your body may appear dead, your circumstances may appear death and there appears no hope for nothing ever sees to change – but God is still there.

In Hannah’s case she prayed, God eventually turned up, and Samuel was born, a most significant young man. The Bible has a number of these children, born to apparently infertile women after many years. Isaac born to Sarah, long after child-bearing age, Jacob (Israel) born to Rebekah after twenty years of wait, Samuel born to Hannah after years of anguish, and John born to Elizabeth in her old age. You can’t find a more significant bundle of individuals!

Over the years I have twice had the privilege of being the messenger to a childless couple that they will have a child within a year – and they did. I have watched as my own daughter struggled with hopeless medical odds until a visiting man of God declared that before the year was out they would have a child – and they did. Childlessness is a curse of the fallen world, but all  I know is that God delights in changing that.

It sounds a cliché but it is true nevertheless – the Lord knows and understands what you feel and feels with you. Hold on to what Gabriel said to the young girl, Mary, “For nothing is impossible with God.” Can we cope while we wait for God to turn up and bring the change that seems impossible otherwise? Yes, because His grace IS sufficient for whoever and in whatever situation (2 Cor 12:9). As you walk the walk of heart-ache, reach out and receive what only He can give – hope, peace and grace, and know you are loved.

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