Summary: A different slant on Mother’s Day
“Childless on Mother’s Day”, I Samuel 1:1-20 -Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
Mother’s Day isn’t a very happy day for women who are unable to have children. Occasionally they have to deal with thoughtless comments like, “How long have you been married—and you don’t have any children yet? Don’t you like children?” My mom waited 10 years—at the maternity doctor’s office a lady told her, “My, My—you sure took your time!”
Hannah bore the imposed shame of this plight, living in a culture where having children was especially important, where the stigma of childlessness was very severe. Every Jewish woman hoped to be the one to give birth to the Messiah. Hannah’s grief is amplified by having to live with Peninnah who was able to have children. So Hannah knew the problem wasn’t with Elkanah, their husband. These two wives did not get along. You can imagine Peninnah saying, “Maybe God knows you wouldn’t make a very good mother.” Peninnah became Hannah’s rival; Peninnah often mocked and provoked Hannah, bringing her to tears (a good argument against polygamy!). In contrast, we’re told that Hannah’s husband went out of his way to show his love. He compensated her for her loss, doubling her gifts. He tells Hannah that with or without children, she was still precious to him, simply for whom she was. Nonetheless, Hannah is “downhearted” (vs 8), which could be translated “depressed”.
Hannah is one of several women in the Bible who waited a long time before being able to have children. For example, Sarah was promised a son, but after waiting for a very long time, she encouraged her husband Abraham to have a child (Ishmael) through a surrogate (Hagar)…and if you know the story, you know this lapse of faith produced the root of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Middle East.
In our culture, women are no longer defined and valued by their ability to bear children. Yet childlessness continues to be a painful reality for many. Eugene Peterson writes, “We read ‘no children’ and are immediately in a world of longings, frustrations, tears, and prayers.” I’d like to offer a few Scriptural principles this Mother’s Day, especially for women who haven’t been able to have children.
First of, God is in control. He is sovereign. His timing is different from ours, which means His plan may not agree with how we may think things ought to be. God decides when, where, and to whom children will be given. He has His reasons. We can be comforted in knowing that there is a “why”, even though we may not be able to figure out God’s purpose. We also need to recognize that if God gave us all the reasons, we still might not be able to grasp them. His ways are above ours (Is 55:8).
Next, children are a blessing, but just because a woman may not have children, it doesn’t mean she’s not blessed. God blesses us in many ways. It’s easy to incorrectly assume that since children are a blessing, not being able to have children is a curse. When people marry, they often feel that they are “supposed” to have children. The only thing we are “supposed” to do is to seek and accept the will of God for our lives.
A key principle of life is that personal fulfillment is found in our relationship with Christ. True happiness is not conditional on our circumstances. We can learn contentment, regardless of what direction our lives may take. Seeking fulfillment in anyone or anything else than in the will of God will only leave us longing for things that will not satisfy us. When we make people or things the criteria of our happiness, we’re dangerously close to idolatry. Longing for something is not a sin, but refusing to be happy without it leads to bitterness.
I was recently given a copy of the Serenity Prayer. You’ve likely heard it many times, but probably only the first part. I’d like to read to you the prayer in its entirety:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will: So that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next—Amen.”
How do we get through the week? By being convinced that God has a plan for our lives. As we try to determine where we fit in, God leads us. He does so through circumstance, the Bible, the counsel of others, and by the indwelling Holy Spirit. We do not wander aimlessly when we are relying on God—we find our calling. We may not see a burning bush or hear His voice, but God impresses us within, and confirms His plan through many subtle means. Augustine declared, “Faith must hold what it cannot yet behold.”