Summary: Christians should have a proper understand of the dynamics of what it feels like for a woman to experience infertility.
Once upon a time there was a woman named Hannah. Hannah didn’t have any children and she wanted so much to have a child. Hannah found her self in deep sorrow over her infertility. No one seemed to understand her need. In her anguish of being without child Hannah prayed and committed a vow to the Lord that if she had a son he would be dedicated to the Lord. This dedication was not like a mother and father dedicating their child to the Lord in our church. This vow involved giving her son up immediately after he was weaned for adoption by a priest who would raise him and train him for his vocation. So then after making this vow Hannah went home and lived out her days never having a child.
No, that’s not what happened in Hannah’s life. We know from the Bible that after making that vow Hannah was blessed with a son whom she named Samuel, which means, “Because I have asked him of the Lord.” But unlike Hannah’s miracle, for many married women a child never comes. In our society, one out of six women who wants to have a baby cannot conceive . And more than five million people of childbearing age in the United States experience infertility . Today is Mother’s Day and it’s a time when we rightfully honor mothers. But as we look at the story of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1, it can also be a time when we pay honor to married women without children.
I. Poor Responses to a Woman Without Child
Hannah is a very famous mother in the Bible, being the mother of the prophet Samuel. For a long time though before she gave birth to Samuel, Hannah struggled with being without a child. As Hannah went through the discouragement of being without child, she wasn’t treated very well by others. This only added to Hannah’s feeling of inadequacy. There are three key people in her life who contributed to her hardship in facing infertility: her husband’s other wife, her husband, and her priest. Turn in your Bibles to 1 Samuel 1 and let’s see how Hannah was treated.
I. a. Peninnah
First, there is Peninnah. She was the other wife of Hannah’s husband Elkanah. Peninnah, who had children, provoked Hannah and ridiculed her situation of being without child (verse 6-7). It was a huge stigmatism to not have a child. Peninnah took advantage of the situation to be rude to Hannah. Maybe Peninnah did this because she was jealous. After all the Bible tells us that Elkanah “loved” Hannah (verse 5). Nothing is said about love being involved in Elkanah’s relationship to his other wife. Yet there is no excuse for being rude and critical to anyone.
I. b. Elkanah
Second, there is Elkanah, the husband of Hannah. His response is one of extreme insensitivity to the situation. In verse 8, Elkanah says to Hannah, “Am I not better to you than ten sons?” There’s something hypocritical about Elkanah asking such a question. If Elkanah had loved Hannah more than ten sons, he wouldn’t have needed a second wife to bear his children. Furthermore, Elkanah’s not the one who is without children. Elkanah already had children with his other wife Peninnah. To compound Hannah’s feeling of inadequacy, we know that the source of problem of infertility wasn’t from Elkanah or he wouldn’t have been able to have children by his other wife.
In this situation Elkanah commits one of the most common mistake husbands make in dealing with their wives. He tries to rationalize his wife’s problems and feelings, when what she really needs is someone to listen to her pain. She doesn’t need someone to try and solve the problem by making her feel better. And she certainly doesn’t need to be asked an unreasonable question about her love for her husband. After all it’s possible to love one’s husband and still deeply want children. I would hope that no Christian here would be rude to someone struggling with infertility, but there is a possibility that many of us here at one time or another have been insensitive to a women without a child like Hannah’s husband was to her.
I. c. Eli
As a priest, Eli severely misunderstood Hannah’s spirit. Hannah comes near Eli and she’s praying and making a vow to the Lord in the sanctuary, and what does Eli do? In verse 14, Eli’s first reaction is to accuse Hannah of being drunk with wine. It should be a very serious calling to be in the business of judging another’s spirit, and in this mistaken reaction Eli compounded the suffering of Hannah.
To give you a little bit of background, my wife and I have not been blessed with children and we’ve been married for five years. So I know all about the pain when an old friend sends you a card and asks the question, “When are you going to have children? I’ll expect to hear the news anytime now.”