Tread carefully this weekend: it’s Mother’s Day.
I have spent many years trying to figure out what this day meant. Is it a celebration of all women, young or old? Is it just for women who have children? I have been in churches where scenes were made because deacons have tried to honor all women. I have been in churches where women being honored took offense because people have asked when they were “due”; implying that they were pregnant. One must tread lightly.
The worst, though, is the predicament of Hannah. In 1 Samuel 1, Hannah has desired a child. Her husband’s, Elkanah, other wife, Peninnah, kept giving him son’s and daughters, but Hannah was unable. Peninnah saw the wound and kept opening it through mocking and provoking. Elkanah continued to spoil Hannah, but without result. She prayed and prayed and prayed for a child.
“In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly.” (1 Sam. 1.10)
Hannah prayed year after year for children. Year after year the prayer returned unanswered. So for years her bitterness increased. Literally the Hebrew word is mar, from where marah comes from. The place where the Hebrews could not drink the water in Exodus 15.23. The thing about bitterness is that it doesn’t heal itself. The Dead Sea is the way it is, is because water flows in, evaporates, and then leaves the salt. There is no healing.
Not only is she bitter, but she is weeping. Back to back this Hebrew word is used: bakah. There are only 4 other places in Scripture where this word is used back to back with itself: Isaiah 30.19; Jeremiah 22.10; Lamentations 1.2; and Micah 1.10. Isaiah uses it in the negative, referring to the understanding that Judah will weep no longer because of God’s quickness to assist them. The rest are not so positive. Jeremiah reminds his people of the great weeping that will come with exile. Lamentations, also from Jeremiah’s pen, recounts the weeping of the once great city that has now fallen, Jerusalem. Micah wants the people to know of the coming judgement and the feelings that will come with it. There will be “weeping and weeping.” The picture becomes clear: the best word for Hannah is one of exile. Her inability to have a child, puts her on the outside looking in.
“I am deeply troubled…I have been praying here out of my great anguish [siach] and grief [ka’as]” (1 Sam 1.15-16)
She is worn out. As time goes on, stiffness ensues. I remember getting out of bed and walking out of the house before it became a 20 minute stretching routine. Hannah claims that she is: “a woman deeply troubled” (hb. ‘isah qeshat ruah ‘anoki). Ruah is the Hebrew word for Spirit. Geshat is the Hebrew word for stiff (a favorite word of Moses for the Hebrew people). It’s a stubbornness. She has been at it for years and the flexibility is gone. Stiffness has set in. She is so tired that she just needs come home and crash on the couch! Its fitting that the word “anguish” (siach) here is the same word that Job uses when he seeks rest: “…my couch will ease my complaint (siach)” (Job 7.13) Hannah needs to crash on the couch and get her feet up.
Finally she is ready to do something about it…but cant. I have had a walking boot on for about 6 months. If I have to tell the story of how it happened one more time, or get asked when it comes off, or have another person mention it; I’m going to explode! The last word in the passage above is translated as “grief” [ka’as]. It’s used earlier in the chapter, verse 6, of the continual prodding by Peninnah (translated there as “provoke”). She has hit wits end. The continual nagging by this burden has taken its toll on her. Every stroller she passes; every minivan door that opens; every facebook post is a reminder that she is inadequate in this area.
THAT IS SOMEONE IN THE PEW NEXT TO YOU THIS WEEKEND! Every time a special day is celebrated…the scab/wound is reopened. One in 8 couples will struggle with infertility. According to the American Pregnancy Association, anywhere between 10-25% of pregnancies end with miscarriages. Be reminded and be aware that Mother’s day wont contain a picnic for everyone.