They may have been joking, but I was hurting.
And their insensitive teasing was like salt in a wound, because I already felt the sadness and grief of another year ending with dreams unfulfilled. I already ached with the loneliness of not having my person amidst all the people. I was already rubbed raw from the unmet longing to share my life, my heart, myself, with someone who would call me theirs.
With all their wonder and magic, the holidays can have a way of magnifying the hard stuff of singleness, as they bring closer proximity to the contrast of couples and families, a deluge of moments and memories we wish we were sharing with that person we could call “mine,” a list of to-dos and tricky dynamics we must navigate alone, and greater frequency of those questions and comments about our singleness that are at best annoying and at worst hurtful.
And on top of all that, maybe we feel unseen in it all; our hopes and plans, endeavors and accomplishments, growth and opportunities being overshadowed by the lack of a ring on our finger.
There’s a woman in the Bible who carried the weight of an unfulfilled dream. Her name was Hannah and her story is found in 1 Samuel 1-2.
Relating to Hannah's Story
.Hannah’s story is one of my favorites in the Bible, not only because I relate to Hannah, but also because there is truth and encouragement for us when the holiday season (or some other seasonal time) adds an extra weight of heaviness to our longings and loneliness.
Hannah became the mother of Samuel, who became the first prophet to God’s people, Israel. But before Hannah had Samuel, she suffered many years of infertility.
Each year, Hannah would go with her husband Elkanah, his other wife Peninnah, and their children to Shiloh, for an annual time of offering sacrifices and worshipping.
I don’t know if her barrenness felt more empty, if her longing pressed more insistently, if her sorrow ached more tenderly during this yearly pilgrimage compared to her every day life, but it certainly didn’t lighten or lessen during this time for Hannah.
And it didn’t help that during this time especially, Peninnah chose to “taunt Hannah and make fun of her because the Lord had kept her from having children. Year after year it was the same—Peninnah would taunt Hannah as they went to the Tabernacle. Each time, Hannah would be reduced to tears and would not even eat.” (1 Samuel 1:6-7)
Hannah’s husband Elkanah responded to her tears by making light of her longings: “‘Why are you crying, Hannah?’ Elkanah would ask. ‘Why aren’t you eating? Why be downhearted just because you have no children? You have me—isn’t that better than having ten sons?’” (1 Samuel 1:8)
And when the priest Eli saw Hannah pouring out the longings of her heart in prayer, he was quick to jump to conclusions and give a solution: “As she was praying to the Lord, Eli watched her. Seeing her lips moving but hearing no sound, he thought she had been drinking. ‘Must you come here drunk?’ he demanded. ‘Throw away your wine!’” (1 Samuel 1:12-14)
As a single person at those yearly holiday gatherings, we can experience similar responses to our singleness as Hannah did to her childlessness:
There are those who make comments and ask questions about our lack of a significant other that, whether by intention, because of insensitivity, or because of ignorance, are hurtful to us.
There are those who in their desire for us to be happy and enjoy the season, can make light of the hard stuff with all the talk about being content where we are and being grateful for what we have.
And there are those who are quick to offer advice without first listening to our heart.
Yeah, I can definitely relate to Hannah.
But like I said, there’s more than just relating to her. There is also encouragement in how God responded to her.
The Lord Remembered Her
“Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the Lord and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah made love to his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her.” 1 Samuel 1:19
The Lord remembered her.
When the Bible talks about God remembering something, it’s not saying He forgot, and then something jogged His memory and caused Him to remember again.
The word “remembered” in this verse comes for the Hebrew word zakar. This word speaks of remembering in such a way as to never forget. It means to mark or record, to retain in thought, to be mindful and to think on.*
Zakar is the word used when Scripture speaks of God remembering His eternal covenant with His people, and so moving to act on their behalf.
We see this word used in a similar way in Genesis 30:22, when Rachel, another woman who suffered from infertility, is remembered by God and enabled to conceive a child.
Zakar shows us the Lord’s heart for us who grieve not a loss of something, but an emptiness of something we’ve never held, but still hold only as a dream.
The Lord Remembers You
God’s plan for Hannah’s life included answering her prayers for a son.
Your prayers may not be answered in ways you expect; your dreams may not be fulfilled in ways you imagine; your longings may not be met in ways you had hoped.
But God will answer.
Because He remembers you. You are recorded in His heart and retained in His thoughts.
He remembers you when when the questions about your singleness and lack of questions about your real life cause you to feel overlooked. He remembers you as you navigating all holiday to-dos and family dynamics solo. He remembers you in your hopes to share the wins with someone who will celebrate, and in your longings to have a second shoulder under the burdens with you.
And His remembering moves Him to act.
So He is also with you in it all. Present in the loneliness. Comforting in the sorrow. Listening to your heart's cry. Guiding through the messy and tricky. Weaving His goodness in and through you. Delighting in you and rejoicing over you.
Loving you, always.
As we celebrate at Christmas: Immanuel, God with us.