By Sarah Van Diest
Last night at our home group we studied I Sam. 1:1-20. I’ve read that passage a number of times over the decades but it struck me differently last night than those other times and I wanted to share.
I had never seen this before: Hannah stopped eating. When her oppressor, her tormentor, her rival, Peninnah, had chastised her to the breaking point, she “wept and would not eat” (vs. 7). It was basically a situation of domestic abuse; a traumatic experience that went on for years (vs.7), and Hannah responded by falling into a coping mechanism that showed itself in depression and an eating disorder. Her husband loved her greatly (vs. 5) and did whatever he knew to do to show her how much he cared for her. And it was his great pain to watch her sink into this sadness (vs. 8). He wanted so much for her to understand that she was loved and valued even though Peninnah, and probably society at large, was sending her the opposite message (because she had no children) (vs. 2).
Hannah had a choice to make, like so many of the other famous characters in the bible and like so many of us today, to either continue to pursue God or curse Him. She chose to pursue God. In fact, she poured out her soul to the Lord (vs. 15) out of her “great anguish and grief” (vs. 16). Like David, a man after God’s heart, she was broken before the Father, open, honest and hiding nothing. And it was then that the miraculous happened. Someone whose reputation was that of a man of God, Eli, saw past what the exterior presentation of Hannah communicated and offered her a bit of hope (vs. 17). He showed her kindness. He showed her love. It was in that moment, at least that’s what I’m thinking, that the mystical happened. The unexplained penetration of God’s love into a heart to move it from disbelief to belief. Not belief that she would bear a child, but belief that God had not forgotten her; that she was seen by God and that He loved her.
At the point of belief; at that point of love’s invasion into her heart, she “went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast” (vs. 18). That’s what love does. It’s not a matter of penetrating the cognitive, rational side of someone’s mind and convincing them to not be depressed, not to succumb to an eating disorder, to give up an addiction… it is the supernatural healing of the Father’s love in our lives that heals. It is His kindness that leads us to repentance, not logic or any other such thing.
At least that’s what my experience has been and I saw it lift off the pages in Hannah’s story last night. My story, like Hannah’s, is of God’s love penetrating through my coping mechanisms. Like Hannah, I chose to pursue God when I was in the darkest place and He found me. And like Hannah’s story, God used others to bring His love to me. I don’t know why God works the way He does, but both Hannah and I had husbands who loved us and who were saddened by our distress, but for whatever reason God chose to work through other means; other conduits of His love. Maybe it’s because if He had used our husbands then we would become dependent on them instead of on our Father. I don’t know.
In closing, when I lived in China, in the isolation of rice paddies and everything foreign, I felt so very small and lost. My husband (now ex-husband) was abusive and life was harder than I knew it could be. This verse became my lifeline: “For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose hearts are completely His” 2 Chron. 16:9. This verse told me God would search the fields and mountains and oceans and cities until His eyes rested on me; He would find me. I was not forgotten.
Sarah has worked in Christian publishing since 2005 as both and editor and an agent.
Currently, she works with her husband, David, in their agency, the Van Diest Literary Agency. Writing is a growing passion for her as she hopes to bring hope to hurting hearts.