I am firmly convinced that there should be a law written down somewhere that says that a man cannot preach a sermon from the opening chapter of I Samuel. Maybe a man could do it, but he really shouldn’t.
There was such a man in my church a number of years ago. He was very young at the time just having celebrated his twentieth birthday. Made in the same spiritual mould as his father, the young man was enthusiastic about God and a dynamic preacher.
I don’t remember much of what he said. No doubt it was much organised. He liked his five points to alliterate, but that day he had picked the wrong topic as far as I was concerned.
Two years of fertility treatment and two miscarriages had left me fragile. Hannah’s story was my own story – apart from the second wife and the annual trips to Jerusalem. I was a member of a church that was overflowing with young couples giving birth to the next generation, bouncing babies on their knees and loving motherhood. I wasn’t a part of it. My barrenness set me apart from all the other women in the church and they didn’t know how to comfort me.
I don’t remember much of what he said, because the moment he began to read the story of Hannah, I began to cry. There were no gut-wrenching sobs. I didn’t howl, or wail, but I was unable to stop the flood of tears that cascaded down my cheeks.
He couldn’t have failed to see me. I was sitting near the front of the church. I wasn’t some stranger that was just visiting. He knew me. His wife – yes, he was married – had spent a year working on the same gospel outreach team as me. He had prayed for me in the early stages of my first miscarriage.
I kept thinking that he didn’t have the right to use “my story”. He didn’t have an inkling about how Hannah was feeling. He had never experienced the level of desperation that she felt. He could say that she felt worthless and abandoned, but he couldn’t know how that felt. He was a man, without a womb, without a ticking clock, without a maternal expression and without a clue.
I don’t remember much of what he said, because there was nothing else that he could teach me from the story that I didn’t already know.
But then, he stopped talking. How long does a silence have to be before it becomes uncomfortable? Apparently just a minute or two will do it for our church. He was looking at me with an intense expression. I dreaded that he was going to call me out to the front and encourage others to lay hands on me a pray that I would conceive a child.
“I am sorry,” he said quietly, laying his notes aside. “I am not qualified to tell anyone about Hannah. What do I know about childlessness? Nothing.”
He was continued to look at me, “I can’t promise that if you want something so much, and you stand before God and pour out your heart, that you will receive what you ask for. Hannah did, but that doesn’t happen for all of us.
“I could tell you that if a woman can’t give birth to a child that there are other things she can do. Creativity and fruitfulness is demonstrated in a million different ways. But that’s not what you want to hear.”
“I can tell you for sure that God knows how you feel. For generations He had been trying to conceive a child – a nation. There was a miscarriage of sorts in the Garden of Eden, and his hopes for children that reflected his nature and character were dashed. He had tried, over and over again – for a people, a people that would carry his name into the world. When he looked down upon mankind there was no one who bore is likeness. He was like Hannah – unable because of his gift of free will, because of their sinful nature, to conceive a child who bore His image. And His heart broke.
“For all of us who have empty arms, hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled, I can’t understand how it feels, but He can. I can’t offer comfort or encouragement – but He can.”
He gathered his notes together, sat down and somewhere deep inside I a peace that had long been absent.
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