Hannah was lost in the travails of life, until she discovered her true mission.
As a single African-American mother, Sonya Carson knew suffering and sorrow. Uneducated, poor and living in a cracker-box house she couldn't afford, she had two active boys to raise alone and no marketable skills to help her survive.
Her only resources were her own two hands, a fierce determination to do whatever it took to make a better life for her sons and her unbending faith in God.
Sonya took jobs as a household domestic to pay the bills and implemented an ambitious agenda for her sons. She turned off the television, enforced a rigorous reading program that opened up new worlds for her boys, and never let them off the hook when it came to doing their homework.
No one could have guessed—least of all Sonya—that through all her sufferings, God was preparing her to raise one of the world's finest neurosurgeons and a bright light for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Her son Dr. Ben Carson, now a nationally recognized figure and the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, openly acknowledges his indebtedness to his mother. In his book The Big Picture, he wrote: "I not only saw and felt the difference my mother made in my life, I am still living out that difference as a man."
Suffering in Silence
Back when the nation of Israel was heading for a seismic shift in government—from the rule of the judges to the rule of kings—God raised up another young woman for a mission greater than she could have imagined.
Hannah's story, like Sonya's, is marked by suffering and sorrow. Yet it is also a story of a mother's unbending faith, sacrifice and ultimate triumph.
"[Elkanah] had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none" (1 Sam. 1:2, NIV).
Hannah was infertile—a miserable circumstance made 100 times worse by the fact that Peninnah, the "other woman" in the family, was making up for Hannah's shortcomings in the sons-and-daughters department.
Women who suffer from infertility know what an emotional roller coaster it is. Hannah experienced all the normal sorrows of empty arms year after year. But her ordeal was also intensified—deliberately because Peninnah openly mocked her; inadvertently because her husband was insensitive to her anguish.
Hannah's torment finally peaked on the family's annual pilgrimage to Shiloh, where they went to offer sacrifices to celebrate God's goodness. Each year on the road to worship—a public parade of Hannah's failure to conceive—Peninnah escalated her taunts.
The harassment went well beyond mere insensitivity. Peninnah's jabs were aimed directly at Hannah's faith in God.
Twice the Bible states the fact that "the Lord had closed her womb" (1 Sam. 1:5-6, emphasis added). This explains why Peninnah's ridicule was so potent. Hannah trusted God, and the bitter payoff, it seemed, was barrenness.
We can understand how Hannah felt. As God's children, we assume we have the "insider's advantage" if we follow God's rules.We are taught that God cares especially for us.
So why do things sometimes only get worse? All our prayers and pleadings seem to fall on deaf ears, while someone else—maybe someone who shows less interest in God—gets to send out the birth announcements.
Hannah's biggest struggle was with God—the God who had closed her womb, to whom she cried out countless times, all seemingly in vain. She was as yet unaware of how much God was doing in the silence.
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