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Entrusting Your Dreams to GodA Study on Hannah
By Judith Couchman
Zondervan Publishing CompanyCopyright © 2002 Judith Couchman
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Object of Great Desire
God plants "impossible" dreams deep in the soul.
Hannah was a desperate woman.
Year after year, when she packed for the annual trip to Shiloh with her husband, Elkanah, her heart filled with dread. There they would present sacrifices and offerings to the Lord in his house. There they would celebrate Jehovah's goodness to them. There, once again, Hannah would feel humiliated.
"But why?" asked Elkanah, cupping Hannah's face in his weathered hands and kissing the lips he adored. "Why are you so sad? Why can't you enjoy our trip to the holy temple?"
Hannah tried to explain, for she deeply loved her husband, but the words jumbled and her eyes puddled with tears. Moving his hands to Hannah's back and pulling her to his chest, Elkanah implored, "Why, my dear wife?"
With her head tucked under his chin, she sobbed, "I speak to the Lord, but he doesn't talk to me. Nor does he answer my pleas for a child."
Elkanah sighed and kissed the top of Hannah's head. "Don't I mean more to you than ten sons?" he asked quietly.
"You are everything a husband can mean to a wife," she answered."But I can't extinguish my desire to conceive. It burns within me."
Hannah was not ungrateful to Elkanah for his attention, or for his husbandly protection and provision. Many women in her hill community endured their marriages; their spouses treated them as mere chattel, as objects to own rather than lovers to cherish. But not Elkanah. He delighted in Hannah and favored her.
Each year when he sacrificed to the Lord, Elkanah gave portions of the meat to his other wife, Peninnah, and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion as a symbol of his enduring love, even with Peninnah's jealous eyes watching him. Even though Hannah bore him no children.
Yet as much as he tried, Elkanah couldn't understand the depth of Hannah's pain. The maternal instinct, deep as the soul itself. The shame when neighbors insinuated her barrenness was God's curse for some secret sin. The taunting from that "other woman" in Elkanah's life who plentifully bore him heirs and sneered at Hannah's infertility. The desire to complete her marriage-to express her love with the greatest gift she could give, the birth of a son.
Whatever the reason for his perplexity, Hannah needed more than Elkanah's soothing words. For the pain within, for the barrenness of her womb, she needed to hear from God.
Setting the Stage
WHAT DO YOU WANT?
Do you harbor an unfulfilled desire that won't diminish? Before meeting with the group, take time to privately pour out your feelings on paper. Whether in the space provided, in a journal or on a computer, honestly describe your longing. For example:
What do you want? Why?
How do you feel about not having it?
How do you feel about yourself?
How do you feel about God?
What hopeful feelings do you have?
Why has this dream stayed alive?
Write out the questions that you hide inside. If you feel wistful or silly, sad or angry, hurt or hopeful, puzzled or disbelieving, say so.
Now be a dreamer. Write out a description or draw a picture of your life if you obtained this object of desire. Don't edit your dream or feelings. How would you feel? What would you do? How would it affect others? How would you feel about God?
But what if you don't have a dream? You're not alone. Many of us would like to have a dream for our lives, but don't. As you attend the discussion sessions, you can use them as motivation to ask God to give you a vision for your life. In the meantime, you can relax and simply soak in the information for future use.
At the same time, living without a dream can feel just as perplexing and purposeless as living with an unfulfilled dream. If you don't have a dream but wish you did, write out how you feel about it. Is it painful? Or do you not care? Have you given up hope? Or is there a desire for a dream, but you don't know where to begin? Tell God. Write a prayer about how you feel, and if you're ready, ask him to place his dreams in your heart.
Whether you have a dream or need one, gather up your courage and wish big. Hannah did.
Discussing Hannah's Story
DESIRE TURNED INTO DILEMMA
Hannah's desire for a baby coursed so powerfully through her, it couldn't be contained. The longing spilled out through her tears, through her words and actions, onto those she loved and loathed. Like a wild river, it flooded every crevice of her life, threatening to drown her hope and happiness.
Still, childbirth wasn't an unusual dream for a young Jewish wife. In her culture motherhood was normal, expected. Unfortunately, this "normal expectation" opened the floodgate of Hannah's unfulfilled desire and created a crisis.
Before you begin the discussion, read the Bible text, 1 Samuel 1:1-8.
1. To better understand Hannah's dilemma, turn to the Behind the Scenes section called "The Blessing of Barrenness" on page 20 and ask one woman to read it aloud. Given this insight to her culture's view of barrenness, how might Hannah have felt about herself and her dream? List your answers on a whiteboard or easel pad so everyone can see and discuss them.
2. First Samuel 1:5-6 claims that the Lord closed Hannah's womb. It's unclear whether Hannah knew this or whether the author added this comment in hindsight. If Hannah knew that God designed her barrenness, how would it add to the feelings your group listed in question one? Why would God choose to close Hannah's womb? Explore more than one reason.
3. Hannah not only struggled with her own feelings, but also endured the taunting "other wife" who lived with her. Read verses 6 and 7. What do they reveal about the characters of Hannah and Peninnah? Do you think each woman's attitudes and actions were justified? Why or why not?
4. Considering Elkanah's question in verse 8, it appears he didn't quite grasp Hannah's grief. Name several reasons why this loving husband didn't fully understand her suffering. Don't allow yourself to say, "Men are clueless." Dig deeper for how he contributed to Hannah's dilemma.
5. Draw a vertical line in the middle of a sheet of an easel pad or white-board. At the top of the left side print the words, "Hannah's Blessings." At the top of the right side print, "Hannah's Banes." (Banes are problems or distresses.) In spite of Hannah's desire and circumstances, what were the blessings in her life? List them on the chart. Then list the problems she faced. How could Hannah use both the blessings and banes to bolster her belief in an unfulfilled dream? How could she let these pros and cons destroy her desires?
Sharing Your Story
DESCRIBING THE DESIRE WITHIN
What is the object of your desire? The unfulfilled longing tucked inside you? Describing it to friends can unburden, encourage, and stimulate you to pursue it, even if circumstances make it look like the impossible dream.
1. Though Hannah lived centuries ago, most of us understand what it feels like to manage unfulfilled longings. What elements of Hannah's story still figure into the lives of contemporary women who pursue a dream or struggle to keep their hope alive?
2. According to Psalm 37:4, God "will give you the desires of your heart." Do you think this means: (a) God will give you whatever you desire; (b) he will place a specific desire in your heart and then fulfill it; or (c) he will fulfill some desires and not others? Explain your response.
3. How can you determine if an object of desire is God-inspired or self-motivated?
Behind the Scenes
THE BLESSINGS OF BARRENNESS
Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. -Psalm 127:3-5
The psalmist wrote these words as a celebration of children, a reflection of his gratitude for family, one of God's many blessings. Unfortunately, the Israelites turned this sentiment into a painful "if-then" proposition. If children were a reward and a blessing, then infertility was a punishment and a curse. And it most likely was the barren woman's fault.
In Old Testament times childlessness named a woman a failure, an embarrassment to her husband, and a financial burden. Children played an important role in the society's social structure, providing a source of labor for families and care for old and infirm parents. Consequently, ancient Middle Eastern custom obligated an infertile wife to offer a servant girl to her husband for sexual relations and childbearing. By law a husband could even divorce a barren wife, and friends and families encouraged him to replace her with an heir-producing female.
For an Israelite wife, infertility meant a soul filled with shame.
On the other hand, Hannah's barrenness placed her in good company, along with the foremothers of her nation. Abram's wife Sarai (Genesis 11:30), Isaac's wife Rebekah (Genesis 25:21), and Jacob's wife Rachel (Genesis 29:31) all suffered the humiliation of childlessness. In these incidents God honored the woman's deep-seated dream, mastered a miracle according to his timing and purpose, and opened her womb. Even more, each of these once barren women has been immortally revered by the Jews. The Lord used their infertility to prove his care, power, and sovereignty over a nation. He turned barrenness into a blessing.
Unfortunately, at this point in Hannah's story, the pain of the present overshadows the hope of the past. She's yet to discover the blessing hidden in her barrenness. -Judith Couchman
Excerpted from Entrusting Your Dreams to God by Judith Couchman Copyright © 2002 by Judith Couchman. Excerpted by permission.
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