The narrator continues Hannah’s story by describing a specific pilgrimage to Shiloh one year. Hannah, shattered by the pain and sick of the taunting, poured out her broken heart before the Lord. In typical Hebrew fashion the storyteller paints a vivid picture with this simple sentence (1:10):
“In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD.”
Let’s chew on those words a bit:
- Bitterness of soul. Not a mild desire, but a gut-wrenching, throbbing pain in the depths of her soul.
- Wept much. Not an occasional tear, but a sobbing, wailing flood.
- Prayed to the LORD. Not passive resignation, but urgent pleading and begging.
The narrator continues his portrait (1:12-13):
“As she kept on praying to the LORD…
Hannah was praying in her heart,
and her lips were moving
but her voice was not heard.”
It wasn’t a quick, half-hearted prayer. She didn’t worry about finding the proper words. She didn’t seek a formula to guarantee her answer. She didn’t lazily parrot a memorized prayer.
She prayed from her heart and in her heart. She simply and honestly bared her soul to the Lord.
Where’d It Come From?
Where did this type of heart-felt prayer come from?
Eli, the priest at Shiloh, studied Hannah from his rocking chair on the porch of the Lord’s house. As a pastor with great sensitivity, he was keenly aware of the Spirit’s stirrings and was deeply empathetic for those in his flock. So, he compassionately encouraged Hannah with these words (1:14):
“How long will you keep on getting drunk?
Get rid of your wine!”
Can you feel what those words did to Hannah’s broken heart?
Imagine that you are so broken by your circumstances that you’re incapable of even verbalizing your prayer. Perhaps there’s been an accident and your child is in the ICU. You’re out of options and without any hope, so you decide to go downstairs to the chapel to beg for God’s intervention. After a bit the hospital’s chaplain comes in. He quickly sizes up the situation and blurts, “Get out of my chapel, you drunken slut!”
The irony of Eli’s insensitive accusation is that Hannah had just vowed that, if God would give her a son, she would give him back to the Lord as a Nazirite. In ancient Israel a Nazirite was a person who made a voluntary vow to abstain from these three things for a specified period of time:
- No haircuts.
- No contact with a dead body. Not even if your father or mother dies.
- No wine or strong drink. Nothing from the grape vine, including grapes, raisins, skin or seeds. Not even grape juice.
Hannah had just vowed in prayer—on behalf of her yet-to-be-given son—that he would never even take a sip of Welch’s grape juice, let alone enjoy a glass of wine or a cold beer. Not just for a specified period of time, but for his entire life. And Eli accused her of being drunk.
Where It Came From
Where did Hannah’s heart-felt prayer come from?
She shouldn’t have had to, but Hannah graciously explained her behavior to that priest. She replied to his taunt with this further description of her pain (1:15-16):
“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.”
Unlike Eli, Ann understood Hannah’s pain and found validation and comfort in her story.
Joann also would understand Hannah’s pain. Her husband, Kyle, and I graduated from seminary together, after which they returned to Indiana to help pastor a church. They had been trying to have children for a number of years but couldn’t get pregnant. They then chose to adopt a baby from inner city Chicago. We met them at Cheddar’s about a year after graduation when they returned to Dallas for a visit. I still can see Joann’s tears as she recounted how they lost their baby after the birth-mother opted out of the agreement. Unable to have children and now unsuccessful at adopting. Through her tears she lamented, “I just want to be a mom.”
Any woman who has ached for a child would understand Hannah. Like Marilyn, who miscarried her first baby when Ann was pregnant with Paul, our first baby. Like my friend and co-worker Diane who miscar¬ried more than a dozen babies and is still childless. Or Mary Sue, whose son was killed by cancer, leav¬ing his young wife a widow and his young children fatherless. Or Frank and Jeannine, whose son was killed in Iraq the day before he was scheduled to come home.
Why did Hannah, Ann, Joann and these other women passionately pray? Because they wanted to become a mom to a new baby or because they wanted to continue being a mom to the child they already had.
Our Heart’s Cry
Why did they pray? Because each woman listened to the cry of her heart and then cried out to her Father.
Ignatius, who founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in 1540, wrote various guidelines to teach the Jesuit missionaries how to pray. One remarkable guideline was, “Ask God our Lord for what [you] want and desire.”
Jesus confirms the guideline with these words,
“If you remain in me
And my words remain in you,
Ask whatever you wish,
And it will be given to you” (John 15:7, emphasis mine).
If you read the rest of my story, you’ll know that I am not saying—and cannot say—that God answers all legitimate prayers.
But what I am saying is this: don’t ever discount the cry of your heart. God may be working in your heart, through your circumstances, to bring about his sovereign plan.