Faith & Inspiration, Reflections, Spiritual Direction

Encountering God in our Brokenness

A reflection on 1 Samuel 1

I have come to realise that we all have burdens in our lives that we keep on carrying around with us, year after year, after year, after year… There aren’t many spaces where we feel we can allow ourselves to be seen, really and completely seen.

In 1 Samual 1, we read how Hannah is taunted and bullied by her rival wife, because she hasn’t got any children. The bullying had been going on year after year. Every time she went to the sanctuary of God she could expect to be taunted… It is only after a very long time that Hannah has the courage to pull herself together, slip away quietly and enter the sanctuary to pray.

Shame is the fear of not being good enough
Dr Brené Brown, in her book Daring Greatly, describes shame as the deep fear we all have of being wrong, of being belittled and of feeling less than. It is the fear of disconnection. Brené explains how we are psychologically, emotionally and spiritually hardwired for connection, love and belonging. It is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. Shame is the fear of not being worthy or good enough for love, belonging or connection. We are locked in our shame and fear and everything that hurts us is kept inside.

I can only imagine that shame must have played a huge role in Hannah’s life. Her not being able to have children combined with the constant bullying that came out of this must have affected her in the way she felt about herself – and not being worthy or good enough to be loved, to belong, to connect. Her pain had defined her so much that it even altered the way people perceived her. At first, Eli thought she was drunk and couldn’t see the depth of her pain, and not even the depth of her conversation with God.  

Telling the story of who we are with our whole heart
The only way to fight this shame, according to Brené Brown, is vulnerability. It is about becoming real – about telling the story of who we are with our whole heart. It is about

“facing uncertainty, exposure, and emotional risks and still knowing that I am enough.”

Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

We need to start believing that we are worthy of love, belonging and even joy. You are worthy of love, belonging and joy…

It seems that this is exactly what Hannah is doing. It literally says that she pulled herself together. She had courage. No longer did she worry about what everyone would think of her. She slips away and pours out her whole heart before God. She tells him the story of who she is with her WHOLE heart. And when Eli questions what she is doing she is real to him too. She says:

“The only thing I’ve been pouring out is my heart (not wine), pouring it out to God. Don’t for a minute think I’m a bad woman. It’s because I’m so desperately unhappy and in such pain that I’ve stayed here so long.”

The Message

Hannah allows for herself to be seen, really seen. This opens the road for connection. And even though her situation has not changed, Hannah has changed. Her appetite is back and her face is radiant.

Putting a name onto things
Prayer is playing an important role in the change that happens inside Hannah. It gives her a space where she can be the nearest to her real self. Where she can face reality – call things as they are. In prayer she recognises her barrenness, she can put names unto some of the things she has been facing and includes God in those things.

I have learnt how prayer is not about changing God, it is first of all changing us. It also connects us to others. In this Bible story, Hannah is first of all connected to Eli – an exchange goes on. And even though the start of this conversation is painful and tricky, Hannah leaves with a special blessing when Eli says

“Go in peace. And may the God of Israel give you what you have asked of him.”

It is exactly in community with others that “God happens”. Being involved in the ministry of spiritual direction gives me the opportunity to create spaces where people can show their vulnerabilities, fears and shames and allow themselves to be changed. And they can leave with a special blessing – the peace of God.

Deep heeling and miracles
A year later, Hannah’s personal situation has changed too. She gives birth to a son who she names Samuel. This doesn’t mean that her life is now easy, as she is actually about to take the hardest step a mother could ever take. She is about to leave her son in the temple with Eli, so he can serve God. Hannah fights to keep her identity in her relationship with God rather than her infertility or later her gift of mothering Samuel. Hannah models for us that whatever our circumstance, if we have the courage to let ourselves be seen, we can use it as a platform to give glory to God.

That is my prayer for each and every one of us. That we may become more and more aware of this hope: that it is exactly at the place where our heart breaks the most that the deepest healing can come and God can work his greatest miracles in our lives. Our brokenness is the very place where we can encounter God’s grace…

Photo by Akshar Dave on Unsplash

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