"But to Hannah he would give a double portion, for he loved Hannah, although the Lord had closed her womb." --I Samuel 1:5
I recently finished reading a wonderful book called Mondays with My Old Pastor by Jose' Luis Navajo. It is sort of a spiritual version of Tuesdays with Morrie in which a young pastor overwhelmed by the stress and demands of his clerical obligations and care for his congregation seeks out the wisdom and encouragement of an older mentor. While the book is fictional, Navajo places some incredible truths in the mouth of the old pastor. I would like to share one of those gems with you today.
One day, the younger pastor, fresh off a fight with his wife, makes his way to his weekly meeting with the old man. After listening to the young man complain about his spouse extensively, the old pastor reminds his younger colleague of the story of Elkanah and Hannah in the Old Testament book of I Samuel. Elkanah actually had two wives, Peninnah and Hannah. Peninnah was able to have children but Hannah was barren. Childlessness was an embarrassment in the culture of ancient Israel; offspring were often considered (wrongly, as this story shows) a sign of the approval of God. In fact, Peninnah apparently made Hannah's life miserable with her ridicule, no doubt only increasing Hannah's shame and heartbreak.
Amazingly, and displaying a tenderness that ought to bring a tear to the eye of any reader, the Scripture reveals that Elkanah loved Hannah more in spite of a closed womb. He would give to her a double portion of the ceremonial meal that his family ate yearly at the Tabernacle in Shiloh. In spite of her husband's favor, Hannah's grief and her desire for a child were so overwhelming that she was unable to eat the love gift her husband provided to her.
I want to focus this reflection on just a few words of I Samuel 1:5. The verse reads, in part, "he (Elkanah) loved Hannah, although . . ." The old pastor told the young pastor in Mondays with My Old Pastor that there are two kinds of people in the world: people who love because and people who love although. It is easy to love someone because they are beautiful or wealthy or popular. It is easy to love when a person fulfills my dream or vision for the perfect relationship. Perhaps the focus of my affection assists my career trajectory. It is easy to love when someone seems to give me everything that I am looking for in a relationship. The problem is that loving because is most often all about me and what that love can do for me. This sort of love feeds my selfishness and strengthens my self-focus.
Loving although is what Jesus Christ displayed on the cross. It is a love that denies self and flies in the face of my desires and my agenda. Paul explained this kind of love succinctly in Romans 5:8: "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." I imitate this kind of love when I choose to love someone else even though they may not be everything I would like them to be. I choose to love when others fail or disappoint. I decide to love on the basis of what I can give to someone else when I receive nothing in return. This is holy love, a love that God will actually use to help us die to self and live for Christ.
And God will bless this kind of love in fruitful, life-giving ways. He will produce something special in a relationship where people love although. Just read Hannah's story a little further. After praying fervently and receiving the blessing of the priest Eli, Hannah gives birth to a son, Samuel. She then offers her beloved son back to the Lord, another act of loving although. (You can see the Dutch artist Jan Victor's depiction of Hannah giving her son to the priest Eli in the image above, 1645, oil on canvas.) Samuel goes on to be the man of God who anoints both King Saul and King David, serving the Lord's purpose for ages to come. Let's examine our relationships and make sure that we are loving others for the right reasons and in a holy, God-honoring way. There is no telling what the Lord might birth in our lives as a result, fruit that could bless others for generations!
Heavenly Father, could you show us the people we are loving because? Expose our selfishness and self-centeredness. Help us to love others the way You love--without expectation and without conditions. Let there be more of You and less of me in the way I relate to everyone I meet. In Jesus' Name, Amen.