"Once when (Elkanah, Hannah, and Peninnah) had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up…and in bitterness of soul Hannah wept much."
I Samuel 1: 9, 10, N.I.V.
"Contention In The House" Part IV
"My bitterness is not an abstract substance, it is as solid as a Christmas cake; I can cut it in slices and hand it round and there is still plenty left, for tomorrow."
Is there something in my life that I have desperately longed for and being denied what it is that I desire so badly has watered the seed of bitterness within my heart?
"I have loved, and bitterness left me for that hour. But there are times when love itself is bitter."
"If bitterness were a whetstone, I could be sharp as grief."
What a family - Elkanah's that is. It was a wonderful family when he married Hannah, whom he deeply loved. But a problem developed. Hannah couldn't get pregnant. And Elkanah decided he wanted children now. He couldn't live without "arrows in his quiver." And so, following an accepted tradition of the people he lived among, he decided to take another wife. The problem was, while she could give Elkanah the children he needed to carry on his family's tradition, she wasn't the love of his life - and it showed. Favoritism toward Hannah ruled Elkanah's days, and the fissure of favoritism divided Elkanah's household into two camps. Sadly, whenever those two camps collided - contention was the result. From favoritism, we find the divisions in Elkanah's home bred a spirit of pity, followed by the continual bombardment of cruel words.
The Bible tells us that year after year, this cesspool of nastiness became the soil in which the seeds of bitterness took root and grew. Just as we found that unmet expectations and longings corroded the heart of Naomi after the death of her husband and two sons, so we find the same thing happened to Hannah. The unfulfilled longing to have a child, along with the taunting cruelty of Peninnah, year-after-year, left Hannah in a pile of grief with a bitter heart.
And here's a point I'd missed in this story before. It was at the time when Elkanah's family went to Shiloh to worship when things really blew up. Maybe having the family out of their normal surroundings made things harder on everyone. In the end, it wasn't the reason that mattered, it was the result.
It's so wonderful to know, that when we are all going through those dark times of gloom and heartache that cause bitterness to destroy the vitality of our lives, throughout the Bible, our kind heavenly Father has left a record of other fellow travelers who have also struggled under the load of unkindness displayed by those around them.
In the 1800's the English poet John Clare penned a prayer based on Psalm 102, which plainly declares and cries out against the trauma nearly every life sustains:
"Lord, hear my prayer when trouble glooms,
Let sorrow find a way,
And when the day of trouble comes,
Turn not thy face away:
My bones like hearthstones burn away,
My life like vapoury smoke decays.
My heart is smitten like the grass,
That withered lies and dead,
And I, so lost to what I was,
Forget to eat my bread.
My voice is groaning all the day,
My bones prick through this skin of clay.
The wilderness' pelican,
The desert's lonely owl -
I am their like, a desert (woman)
In ways as lone and foul.
As sparrows on the cottagetop
I wait till I with fainting drop.
I hear my enemies reproach,
All silently I mourn;
They on my private peace encroach,
Against me they are sworn.
Ashes as bread my trouble shares,
And mix my food with weeping cares.
Yet not for them is sorrow's toil,
I fear no mortal's frowns -
But thou hast held me up awhile
And thou has cast me down.
My days like shadows waste from view,
I mourn like withered grass in dew.
But thou, Lord, shalt endure for ever,
All generations through."
How thankful we can be that David ends this Psalm with the confidence that His Father will continue to take care of him, not only during the best times but during the worst times, as well.
"Join the great company of those who make the barren places of life fruitful with kindness. Carry a vision of heaven in your hearts, and you shall make your name…correspond to that vision…The great enduring realities are love and service. Joy is the holy fire that keeps our purpose warm and our intelligence aglow. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form aglow."
"Grant, O God, that amidst all the discouragements, difficulties and dangers, distress and darkness of life, I may depend upon Thy mercy, and on this build my hopes, as on a sure foundation. Let Thine infinite mercy in Christ Jesus deliver me from despair."
Dorothy Valcàrcel, Author
When A Woman Meets Jesus
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