“There was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephrathite. He had two wives. The name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other, Peninnah. And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.
Now this man used to go up year by year from his city to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord. On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. And Elkanah, her husband, said to her, ‘Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?’
After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. And she vowed a vow and said, ‘O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.’
As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. And Eli said to her, ‘How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.’ But Hannah answered, ‘No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.’ Then Eli answered, ‘Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.’ And she said, ‘Let your servant find favor in your eyes.’ Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.
They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the Lordremembered her. And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, ‘I have asked for him from the Lord.'” – 1 Samuel 1:1-20ESV
In youth ministry, you hear a lot of stories. I’ve heard enough that one thing I confidently tell other adults is, “People think kids have it easy. The reality is a lot of kids have nightmares behind their eyes. They just don’t have the benefit of experience to help them deal with it.” The stories that really break your heart are about what happens when they’re at home: emotional abuse, gaslighting, sexual abuse, physical abuse, marriages tearing apart while the kids can only watch, denial of affection and approval, passing back and forth between divorced parents so frequently they never really feel “at home” anywhere… the list goes on. The worst is the kids who don’t tell me what’s going on, thinking I can’t see behind the withdrawn attitudes or the showboating or the combativeness to know there’s more going on. It’s worse because I know they’re broken open and bleeding inside, in desperate need of help they’ll never accept. They don’t dare trust again.
With these years as a youth leader, I’ve also had many conversations with afraid, angry, crying parents who don’t know how to help their hurting kids. They don’t like the way things are…but they don’t know what to change and aren’t even sure anything can work. The unfortunate reality is usually, by the time I know their kids, it is often almost too late. They’re teenagers, a few years from graduation and the freedom to do whatever they chose. The road they are set upon was paved long before I knew them. Because the reality is, the best two things you can give your kids starts before they’re even born:
- Your living faith in Jesus
- Your loving marriage
In 1 Samuel 1:1-20, the prophet Samuel is born. He will ultimately be the prophet who serves God during the years of King Saul, the first king of Israel. He will be the prophet who identifies and anoints David to become king after Saul. This is the same King David God calls a “man after his own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14ESV). But Saul’s beginnings are much more humble: the first son of a woman unable to have children, bullied by her husband’s far more fruitful second wife. This is a woman who would have been told her womb was “dead”.
But there were two things Hannah did have:
- She turned to the Lord for comfort in suffering, demonstrating her trusting relationship with Him. “She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly.” – 1 Samuel 1:10ESV
- A husband who loved her deeply, despite the fact she had “no value” as a woman in his culture because she could not give him sons. “But to Hannah [Elkanah, her husband,] gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb.” – 1 Samuel 1:5ESV
If you continue to read through 1 Samuel, you will find these two things proved fertile ground for Samuel to grow into an incredible man of God:
- “Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and also with man.” – 1 Samuel 2:26ESV
- God calls Samuel “a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. And I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed forever.” – 1 Samuel 2:35ESV
- “Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life.” – 1 Samuel 7:15ESV (Meaning he was the spiritual leader of all Israel, holding it accountable to God’s leadership.)
- God chose Samuel to name the first King of Israel. “Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on his head and kissed him and said, ‘Has not the Lord anointed you to be prince over his people Israel? And you shall reign over the people of the Lord and you will save them from the hand of their surrounding enemies.'” – 1 Samuel 10:1ESV
- God chose Samuel to stand before King of Israel himself and hold him accountable for evil, “And Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.” – 1 Samuel 15:26ESV
This is not to say being faithful to Christ and devoted to your marriage is the “silver bullet” of raising children. Sin is in the world, and Satan is active to mislead us. However, when your children see the love of God in your life and see deep, abiding, forgiving love between their parents… they have modeled for them a life infused with meaning and purpose. They have a strong foundation from which to step into a world filled with opportunity and danger. They have a powerful reminder of the enduring ability of God to make an incredible impact through two people who love one another and Him.
Through your marriage, kids have a picture of the love of God for His people…including them. A love “that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19ESV).
- If you are married, how do you think you’re doing together? What might be some ways you could “grow together” as models of Christ’s love?
- If your marriage is broken, that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. What couples has God placed in your life who could help you mentor your children?
- If you are unmarried, reflect on the marriage habits you learned from your parents. Where may God be trying to grow you and prepare you as a partner to someone someday?
- Challenge for the Week: Whether you are married or not, bring your marriage or possible future marriage before God, praying for His strength and guidance and love to guide it.