excerpt from “Good Mood Bad Mood” and it discusses the role of grace and sadness in Hannah’s life.
Not long ago, I was visiting my cousins in southern California and went to church with them. The sermon “happened” to be about Hannah and the problems we suffer. I left that morning with two things written in the margin of the bulletin. The pastor said, “Problems never come without purpose” and Hannah’s name in Hebrew means “grace.” I don’t believe it was an accident that the pastor preached about Hannah on a day when I had traveled 2000 miles to be there and when I needed to hear about problems, sadness, and grace. I also don’t believe it was an accident that Hannah’s name means “grace.” In truth, that is what her story is all about. If you read the account quickly, you may think that this is a story about the evils of polygamy or the burden of infertility. And you would miss the point. It reflects the definition of womanhood in that era, when Rachel would tell Jacob to “give me children or I will die.” Rachel and Hannah shared the view that they could not be complete as women unless they had sons. If you are not careful, you might think that the point of the story is that God miraculously opened Hannah’s womb to give her children. But the real point is how God worked in the heart of a woman whose sole desire was children. Hannah’s situation truly was a burden and a heartache. But in the midst of it, Hannah was fixated on herself and her problem. It is there that we see God’s grace at work. From the time we see her in tears until she weans little Samuel and presents him at the temple for service to the Lord and Eli, Hannah changes. She changes from a sad woman who could only be fulfilled by having a child to a joyful woman who could give the person she valued most to the Lord. She did not go grudgingly to the temple with her son Samuel; she went with joy to leave behind part of her heart. Then Hannah prayed and said,
“My heart exults in the LORD; My horn is exalted in the LORD, My mouth speaks boldly against my enemies, Because I rejoice in Your salvation. There is no one holy like the LORD, Indeed, there is no one besides You, Nor is there any rock like our God.” —1 Samuel 2:1–2
The rest of Hannah’s prayer is a testimony to God’s sovereign grace. The remarkable thing about it is that God could send a problem into Hannah’s life that brought her sadness, and then allow that sadness to drive her to himself, to grace, and to change. If we could do away with all suffering and sadness, we would indeed suffer a great loss. The real importance of sadness is that it drives us to the only place and power that bring about real change in our lives.