Through Hannah’s struggle with infertility, she learned how to rely on God to deal with her emotions, her limitations and her suffering. By doing so, she fulfilled God’s plan for her life and lived an amazing destiny as the mother of Samuel – a prophet, a leader and a judge. Samuel led Israel into a time of peace that lasted his lifetime (1 Samuel 7:13-14).
Hannah’s example teaches us how to handle pain in a spiritual way. In this 4 part article, we unravel how Hannah did this so that we can apply what we learn to our own hearts and lives. Your circumstances might not be exactly the same as hers, but we all have pain at some point in our lives that we struggle to understand and handle. Each section concludes with personal questions to explore, Scriptures for further Bible study and a suggested prayer.
Here is the outline of what we will learn from Hannah’s example about how to handle pain:
Part 1 – Embrace Emotions
Part 2 – Embrace Limitations
Part 3 – Embrace Suffering
Part 4 – Embrace God’s Plan
1. Embrace Emotions
Initially Hannah handled her anger and sadness about her infertility on her own. Learning how to deal with emotions in a healthy way is essential; when we don’t, we end up finding unhealthy outlets. Instead of turning to God, Hannah controlled her eating for a false sense of control because she could not control her circumstances.
Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. 7 This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat.
1 Samuel 1:6-7 NIV
As women, we often turn to food to deal with our emotions. Some of us eat extra or choose unhealthy foods for comfort to cover up what we feel. Others of us eat less or overdo healthy eating for a sense of control. Any time my eating habits change, it is a good opportunity to look into my heart and understand what I am feeling and evaluate why. Turning my emotions to God is not my first instinct. In fact, I may gain a pound or two before I realize how much chocolate I’ve been eating for emotional comfort.
When I’m not dealing with my emotions, I also often take my emotions out on other people. It seems that Hannah may have taken out some of her emotions (anger and sadness) on her husband. He felt helpless to cheer her up because she refused to turn to God (1 Samuel 1:8).
Luckily there is hope for us! Turning her emotions to God was not natural for Hannah either. The Scripture above says “this happened every year” which means year after year Hannah would stop eating because she got upset from the teasing and she would cry due to her sadness of being childless. Every year her disappointment increased, leaving her in more despair that she could not change her situation. She chose bitterness over turning to God.
You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.
Psalm 56:8 NLT
We learn from this verse that God saw all of Hannah’s sorrow and collected all of her tears. He does the same thing for us today. God is waiting for us to turn to him with our emotions. Year after year Hannah handled her disappointment, anger and sadness the same way. But one day she changed her approach (1 Samuel 1:9-18). She embraced her emotions and expressed the sorrow of her soul to God in prayer instead of relying on her previously practiced maladaptive coping mechanisms. This changed everything. Turning to God with our emotions can change everything for us too.
Hannah was so sad that she cried and prayed to the Lord.
1 Samuel 1:10 NCV
I was pouring out my soul to the Lord.
1 Samuel 1:15b NIV
When she embraced her emotions by being honest with God, Hannah got a vision that was bigger than just herself and her feelings. She got a vision and vowed to do it (1 Samuel 1:11). God refined Hannah’s heart through her sadness. Her emotions drove her to develop an intimate relationship with God and allowed her to embrace a non-traditional family experience. Her motives were refined as she no longer wanted a son just for herself, but she wanted a son so she could give him up to serve God.
… embracing sadness somehow gladdens our hearts.
Ecclesiastes 7:3 Voice
… sadness has a refining influence on us.
Ecclesiastes 7:3 NLT
Hannah trusted God with her emotions and he provided for her by giving her what she had asked for (1 Samuel 1:20). But even before she got pregnant, before God answered her prayer, her whole countenance changed because she resolved her internal conflict and her emotions in prayer. After she prayed “then she went away and ate something, and her face was no longer down cast” (1 Samuel 1:18b NIV). She embraced her sadness, let go of her bitterness and her heart was gladdened so she no longer needed a sense of control.
When Hannah embraced her sadness by turning to God in prayer, it refined her and the long term result was joy as recorded in her later prayer:
The Lord has filled my heart with joy; I feel very strong in the Lord. I can laugh at my enemies; I am glad because you have helped me.
1 Samuel 2:2 NCV
She was happy, strong and confident because she relied on God for joy, strength and help, even though her circumstances hadn’t yet changed.
What situation or area of your life do you wish you could control? What emotions do you have about this topic? How have your emotions been affecting your relationships? How do you feel when your situation does not change?
What can you do differently to embrace your disappointment or sadness and turn to God?
How could God be getting you ready for a bigger destiny through this situation?
Scriptures for further study:
- Job 15:11-12 GW – Accept God’s comfort so your emotions don’t carry you away
- Philippians 3:18-19 GW – Don’t let emotions be your God
- 2 Corinthians 10:5 VOICE – Take emotions captive
Schedule some time alone or with a friend to pray, to really pray expressing your emotions to God specifically about the things you’re disappointed about. Don’t let your emotions carry you away, but rather carry you closer to God.
2. Embrace Limitations
Although for years Hannah longed to get pregnant and have a child, I’m sure she planned to raise her children at her side. She had a plan for when her first child should come and then the second and so on. We know that her initial life plan did not include delayed childbearing, because she was so distraught and felt so much about not having a family of her own. We often plan out our lives as if we do not have any limitations. And the plans we make sometimes don’t match God’s greater plan. As with Hannah, God uses our limitations to guide our lives to fulfill his purpose.
Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.
Proverbs 19:21 NIV
Hannah needed to embrace her limitations and understand that she was not in control of her family planning. No matter how much she wanted to have a child it was not in her power to make it happen. She was likely doing everything that was considered helpful to get pregnant and all this effort was to no avail because she was not in control.
We are women, we are strong! We won’t let limitations keep us down or from getting what we want. Right? We have many ways to handle our limitations. Denial is a strong favorite of many, then there is casually ignoring them, or working around them, or compensating for them. We can throw money at the problem to try to make it go away. We fight to overcome our limitations. Isn’t that what we are supposed to do?
Well, God used Hannah’s limitations for a very specific purpose. He used her barrenness so that she would develop the right heart condition. Her motive changed when she embraced her limitations. She became willing to give up a child, if God granted her one, without knowing if she would ever get pregnant again. When she relied on God for her family planning, she resolved to be content with her limitations. God closed her womb so that she would have the right child at the right time with the right heart, because he had a very big plan in mind for her child’s destiny.
He has made everything beautiful and appropriate in its time. He has also planted eternity a [sense of divine purpose] in the human heart [a mysterious longing which nothing under the sun can satisfy, except God]—yet man cannot find out (comprehend, grasp) what God has done (His overall plan) from the beginning to the end.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 AMP
We cannot comprehend or grasp God’s overall plan. He has a plan for our weaknesses, our limitations, and our handicaps. When we are in the middle of our story being written, we can’t see the end. Hannah did not know God would give her a son who would lead the nation into a time of peace. Hannah did not know God wanted to instill in her son Samuel not only his father’s devotion to God (he went every year to worship), but also the heart condition she developed before he was born.
Hannah’s selflessness matured through her struggle with her limitations. Her heart learned to solely rely on God. The limitations in her life contributed to the intimacy she developed with God and she passed on an intimate relationship with God to her son.
Before Samuel grew into his leadership role, the word of the Lord was rare (1 Samuel 3:1). Samuel’s heart condition caught God’s eye and the Lord called Samuel by speaking directly to him (1 Samuel 3:4). Samuel learned to listen to and respond to the Lord with the help of Eli (1 Samuel 3:4-14) and God continued to reveal himself to Samuel (1 Samuel 3:21). Samuel’s walk with God continued to develop; he interceded for the people (1 Samuel 7:5) and God answered him (1 Samuel 7:9). Samuel turned to prayer to process his emotions like his mom (1 Samuel 8:6) and asked God for help and advice. They would converse back and forth and God would guide him (1 Samuel 8:21-22). Samuel developed a strong trust and friendship with God that models his mother’s heart.
God wants to use your limitations to show his power. God wants to connect with you through your limitations. Embrace your limitations and let God write your story. This Scripture helps guide us to follow Hannah’s example and embrace weaknesses:
… I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. … At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, “My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.” Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.
2 Cor 12:7-10 MSG
What limitations or weaknesses do you need to embrace? How can you let God use your limitations to make you stronger? How do you need to change your plans for your life to include your limitations? In what ways can your limitations drive you to connect with God more intimately?
Scriptures for further study
- Romans 6:19 NIV – human limitations
- 2 Corinthians 13:5-9 MSG – Celebrate our limitations
- Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV – God’s ways are better
Pray to surrender to your limitations and rely on God for strength.
3. Embrace Suffering
But those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction. He is wooing you from the jaws of distress to a spacious place free from restriction, to the comfort of your table laden with choice food
Job 36:15-16 NIV
God speaks to us in our suffering, affliction and distress. God woos us out of our suffering so that he can deliver us from it. God delivered Hannah after she embraced her suffering. He spoke to her in her suffering which changed her outlook, gave her hope and a vision.
Hannah suffered through infertility and bullying from Peninnah to the point of anguish of her soul. Her heart was filled with bitterness as a result of handling her suffering without relying on God. Year after year, her rival provoked her, teased her, and intentionally caused her harm. But neither the suffering nor the bitterness defined Hannah in the end because she embraced her suffering and turned to God in prayer. She cried out in her distress and expressed her anguish which changed her heart and her relationship with God.
Hannah was greatly distressed, and she prayed to the Lord and wept in anguish.
1 Samuel 1:10 AMP
I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.
1 Samuel 1:16b NIV
During times of suffering, I often try to hold it together. I can handle it, I think. I harden my heart, lock down my emotions and push through like a solider. At some point however, my self-reliance fails to relieve the physical suffering. It also fails to relieve the emotional suffering that accompanies the disappointments, the delays, the feelings of being stuck in time while as I watch other’s lives progress around me.
Hannah must have felt this way each time Peninnah got pregnant and added another child to her family. It must have seemed so unfair! Hannah likely thought things like, “Why does she have it so easy? Why do I have it so hard? Why is her evil being repaid with the blessing of children?” The Bible does not quantify how many children Peninnah had, but it was at least 4 in total (2 sons and 2 daughters) as derived from the sentence “… he would give meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters” (1 Samuel 1:4).
That means over the course of each 9-month pregnancy, Hannah was burdened by picking up the slack around the home and watching her rival enjoy the experience that Hannah only dreamed of having. Or even worse, she may have heard Peninnah complaining about her swollen feet, protruding belly or achy back while she was pregnant. I can imagine Hannah responding by screaming in her head, “At least you are pregnant!” There must have been jealousy in Hannah’s heart before the bitterness took root. And then to make things worse, she experienced not only passive irritations, but many overt ones as well. Peninnah rubbed it in, year after year (1 Samuel 1:7).
All of this suffering brought deep anguish to Hannah’s heart. In her bitterness, she likely asked God “How long? How long until you change things? Don’t you love me?” similar to this psalmist:
My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long? Turn, Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love.
Psalm 6:3-4 NIV
Suffering seems even longer when we are not turning to God or listening to God. The anguish continues because we don’t allow God to relieve it or comfort us through it. God is true to himself and he is loving through suffering. When we embrace suffering, then we can truly embrace his unfailing love.
I suffer from several chronic illnesses that flare up every so often. My health has not been doing well for over 8 months. For the first 4 months, I minimized my symptoms to ignore the suffering. I kept having thoughts like “I can’t do this again” and so I pretended it was not happening. This was not helpful as it delayed getting on proper treatment. Once I embraced the suffering and responded to God wooing me, my heart melted and I slowed down enough to listen. I heard God say, communicating to me – you don’t have to do it again, I’ll carry you through it, let it be me this time not you.
God wants me to fully rely on him during my suffering. The ability to do this only develops if there is a need for it. The physical suffering has not ended for me yet, but I can attest that it does significantly help to follow Hannah’s example by embracing my suffering and expressing my anguish in prayer. At these points, I feel God’s love and gain confidence and trust in his plan for me. He is drawing me to a better place and he is changing me through my suffering. My story is still being written, I have no idea what God is trying to prepare me for through this suffering and as Hannah was going through it, neither did she. But what we do know is that God uses suffering and trials to chisel us for the better and to teach us to walk humbly with him.
When pride comes [boiling up with an arrogant attitude of self-importance], then come dishonor and shame, But with the humble [the teachable who have been chiseled by trial and who have learned to walk humbly with God] there is wisdom and soundness of mind.
Proverbs 11:2 AMP
Struggle and suffering developed Hannah’s walk with God so that she became what she needed to be as the mother of the child God wanted to give her. Suffering led to Hannah’s character being refined, her obedience growing and ultimately the suffering led to satisfaction.
Suffering helps us appreciate the small things. As a result of her suffering, Hannah’s heart was full of gratitude. Deep satisfaction came from seeing her son grow up into to an influential leader, important judge and godly prophet. I imagine there were times when Hannah might have wanted to rub it in to Peninnah that Samuel accomplished more than her many children combined, but I don’t get the impression that she did. Hannah embraced her suffering, so there was no need for revenge. When we embrace our suffering, it allows the suffering to refine us and gives an opportunity to understand how the suffering is part of a bigger purpose.
Have you become embittered by your suffering? How can you embrace your suffering or distress instead of reject it? How is God wooing you to be close to him? What is God trying to say to you in your suffering?
Scriptures for further study
- Romans 5:3-5 VOICE – suffering leads to character
- Psalm 119:67, 71 – suffering leads to obedience
- Isaiah 53:11 NIRV – suffering leads to satisfaction
Pray to embrace your suffering. Ask God to show you who he wants you to become and how suffering is part of the refining process. Pour out the anguish of your soul, and find satisfaction in God’s love.
4. Embrace God’s Plan
Embracing God’s plan is listening to what he wants and letting go of what we want. We can only do this if we embrace our emotions, embrace our limitations and embrace our suffering as previously described in parts 1 through 3. However, to actually do these steps, I needed to develop a deep trust in God. Here are a few Scriptures that help me significantly.
Everything God does is right – the trademark on all his work is love
Psalm 145:17 MSG
For the word of the LORD holds true, and we can trust everything he does.
Psalm 33:4 NLT
For the word of the LORD is right and true; he is faithful in all he does
Psalm 33:4 NIV
Ultimately, God’s motive is love. Not matter how different God’s plan is from my plan – he is right! God gave me my limitations and he allows my suffering and he is right in doing so. I can trust him in what he is doing with my life, because he is faithful and he is loving. My limitations and my suffering are not for nothing; God has a plan and his purpose will prevail.
“11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord.
Jeremiah 29:11-14 NIV
God has great plans for me. He plans to give me a hope and a future. The bottom line is that God wants a relationship with me. He is calling me and has designed my life so that I will seek him and find him.
Despite her struggles, God gave Hannah much hope and an amazing future. Her struggle and all the emotions related to it led her to seek and find God. Embracing her emotions refined her, embracing her limitations paved the way for God’s plan to unfold, but it was embracing her suffering that got her ready to fulfill God’s plan for the son He waited to give her. This Scripture describes the how the process of suffering actually frees us up to embrace and pursue God’s plan instead of our own:
1-2 Since Jesus went through everything you’re going through and more, learn to think like him. Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you’ll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want.
1 Peter 4:1-2 MSG
To embrace God’s plan, we have to give up expecting things to go our way and give up some things that we want. Hannah gave up what she wanted (a child to raise at her side) and embraced God’s plan for her to have a child who would serve God. When she gave up what she wanted in prayer, she was happy even BEFORE God’s great plan unfolded. She was happy just because she was no longer tyrannized by what she wanted and did not have. I don’t think she had any regrets as saw her son grow up to a very influential man. When you give up what you want to embrace what God wants for you, you will not have regrets either. Finding God’s plan sometimes requires us to give up things that we want.
Then Jesus called the crowd to him, along with his followers. He said, “If people want to follow me, they must give up the things they want. They must be willing even to give up their lives to follow me.”
Mark 8:34 NCV
Then Jesus went to work on his disciples. “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?”
Matthew 16:23-24 MSG
Hannah’s story gives us an inspiring outline to follow as we are called to give up things we want through circumstances we cannot change. What God desires for us is always much better than what we desire for ourselves. When we embrace Jesus as the one in our driver’s seat, we actually get to enjoy life and find our true selves.
You can lose your soul trying to get everything you want by stuffing your feelings, taking shortcuts to bypass your limitations and running from suffering. But why do that? You can embrace God’s plan and find yourself through embracing your emotions, embracing your limitations and embracing your suffering.
Following God’s plan ultimately leads to our desires being satisfied. Although Hannah had to wait for her family, God blessed her with more children after Samuel (1 Samuel 2:21).
28 And we know [with great confidence] that God [who is deeply concerned about us] causes all things to work together [as a plan] for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose.
Romans 8:28 AMP
What is God calling you to give up to embrace his plan for you?
How could giving it up unlock an amazing new path for your life?
How do you feel about letting God/Jesus be in the driver’s seat of your life?
How can you build trust in your relationship with God?
Scriptures for further study
Jeremiah 18:1-6 – God molds us as he sees fit
Haggai Chapters 1 and 2 – God blesses us when we focus on his plan
James 4:13-17 – Let God plan your life
Ask God to build your trust in him and to equip you for his plan. In your prayer make decisions to give up what you want so that you can embrace what God wants.
I call you to join me in following Hannah’s example to handle adversity with God by embracing our emotions, embracing our limitations, embracing our suffering so that in the end we can embrace God’s great plan for us.