The biblical character Hannah promised God that if He allowed her to have a child she would ‘give him back to God”. This was no metaphor for bringing him up in a godly tradition, or preparing herself for the fact that one day, as a twenty something, he would choose a less well trodden path of ‘priestly’ service. Instead, this young woman, who had longed for children for years, deliberately and resolutely holds her promise to God, closer to her heart than her own feelings or, dare I say it, the needs of her child. In fulfilment of her vow, Hannah (and Elkanah) present their pre-schooler to Eli the priest in the Temple of God’ and leave him in the care of this elderly priest with no promise of him coming back home!
We know for sure that God had not required this ‘sacrificial act’. Hannah had made this vow while in a deeply troubled state of mind, broken in spirit by her childlessness. She lived in a society where fertility was prized and celebrated and the consequences of infertility ran deep – personal worthlessness as well as lack of any future prospects and security.
But Hannah’s actions seem so ….wrong. Selfish? Neglectful?
Hadn’t Hannah heard of Bowlby, Robertson or Rutter? Had she really thought through the consequences of her hastily muttered vow?
Samuel was undoubtedly a wanted and loved child. In today’s jargon he would have been ‘securely attached’ to his parents in his infant years. From the moment little Samuel was place in his mothers arms by a midwife, Hannah held her little bundle as a gift; cherished and loved him during his infancy and early years, but never removed the ribbons and wrapping paper from her precious gift completely. She had every intention of giving this gift back …one day, to God.
From biblical records, it’s hard to comment on the quality of care Samuel received in the temple but he seemed to thrive (1st Samuel ch 2 v 26), and this despite the company he may have been forced to keep with Eli’s sons.
Furthermore, Samuel seems to have suffered little ill effects in the long run from his less than ideal childhood. God had His eye on him all through these years, developing his character and competence to be the last judge and first prophet of Israel.
I’m drawn to the Bible, not necessarily for the stories within (weird and wonderful though some of them are), or the beautiful liturgy, but rather in search of an unseen God, who reveals himself to us in relationship. I’m curious to see how Hannah ‘dances’ with God….in a beautiful, reciprocal, emotional way.
As a broken young woman, Hannah finds that God understands and validates her feelings more than her husband, and indeed more than the priest in the temple where she goes to pray. God is not distant to her, but He is to be respected. A covenant keeping, holy and powerful God. And yet here she stands: at the fringes of existence and mental tolerance and there is only one thing more she can offer – her son back to God. Hannah reaches her hands up to Heaven with her most precious offer and God stoops to receive it. It’s an act of love and belief which God wholeheartedly treasures and responds to with unlimited blessing.
If I choose to ‘dance’ the same dance with God today he won’t make unreasonable demands on me or my children, but God still honours our sincere acts of thanks to Him, and the sacrifices we make in our lives to prioritise our relationship with Him.
I have three wonderful sons. God knew this rather shy, introspective, stick by the rules mum needed three amazing little bundles of exuberant energy and FUN! What a gift!
It’s a gift from God I truly cherish and always will, but in all the years of fun, there have been many occasions when I’ve had to step back, sit on my hands and choke back my anxieties just to allow my little cherubs to be….well, just to be themselves, be boys: the rough and tumble, adventure seeking, mischief making, mud and water slinging, football crazy beings that God made them.
As young men, they’ve proved to me time after time, that God holds more for their lives than my limited wishes or dreams. So, as they leave home one by one, I trust them deliberately and purposefully to God’s keeping.