The Secret to Having Joy in Dark Places

For those of you who know me or have read my writing before, you know that in the past, I have struggled with anxiety. A part of that is because of my story as a childhood cancer survivor. We each have a story, and regardless of who we are or where we come from, I think we all have fears that linger in the back of our minds; many of them shaped by our past, maybe even by trauma, some by the people we know, others by the world we live in, our current circumstances, or a chemical imbalance in our brain.

Now that we know we’re all on level ground, I want to talk about a woman that flat out inspires me. Her name is Hannah.

Hannah was married to a guy named Elkanah who had two wives (Hannah and Peninnah). She was basically living one of almost every woman’s worst fears – she wasn’t able to have children. Now, here is a crucial point we can’t miss in Hannah’s story before we really dig in:

“the Lord had closed her womb” (1 Samuel 1:6)

See, God breathes His breath of life into every human that He creates. He is sovereign, and He chose to allow Hannah to walk through her circumstances even though she was never alone and He was in control the whole time.

Secondly, her inability to have kids didn’t define her. This is why the same verse makes it clear that her husband loved her despite her struggle to get pregnant. (Which was not only a huge disappointment, but a huge disgrace during this time period.)

On top of everything, Peninnah taunted her in the middle of her pain instead of empowering her. (v. 6) I think it’s interesting and worth noting that it refers to Peninnah as a “rival” and that it remains singular, because one person really does have that much affect on another.

But here’s where I really want us to camp out for a minute:

“Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat” (1 Samuel 1:7)

Hannah was depressed.

“She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly.”
(1 Samuel 1:10)

She was so broken as she was praying, Eli the priest accused her of being drunk. (v. 13)

She was so engulfed in her pain, she couldn’t even bring herself to say the words out loud. (v.13)

When Eli questioned her, she said, “I am a woman troubled in spirit…I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord…I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation (1 Samuel 1:15)

Hannah had anxiety. She was troubled. The word “vexation” here means annoyed. And in the midst of it all, she:

a) Poured her soul out to God (v. 15)
b) Knew that she had worth despite her struggles (v. 16)

After an encouraging talk with Eli, Hannah rose up early the next morning and she worshiped the Lord. (v. 19)
She went home, and “the Lord remembered her”. (v. 19)

“And in due time, Hannah conceived and bore a son” (v. 20)

In due time, meaning at exactly the right time. In exactly the right God ordained moment of conception, God chose to hand craft Samuel, who would go on to do mighty, mighty things for the Lord. Not too early, not too late. Just when the world needed Samuel, God answered Hannah’s prayers. Because the whole time He knew.

This moment is unfathomably beautiful:

“…I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. For this child I prayed…” (1 Samuel 1:26-27)

Hannah is saying, “I am the woman who was depressed, deeply distressed, weeping bitterly, crying out to the Lord, nearly hopeless, full of great anxiety and annoyed over the way I poured out my soul and nothing changed. And here I am now, in this very same place where my tears were shed and my prayers prayed, giving my child to the Lord as I promised I would if He heard my cry.” 

Everything has come full circle.

Hannah was just like me. Hannah was just like you. She walked through this valley where she struggled with her emotions. She had an inner battle between the desire God placed in her versus the reality God had given her in the moment.

God created all emotions. We’re allowed to fully feel. We’re aloud to be frustrated. We’re aloud to grieve. In fact, it’s the only way to grow.

But she knew – she knew she wasn’t worthless because of her circumstances or her emotions. She knew she had to work through it and there was hope. God had a plan, whether it panned out the way she desired it to or not. Obviously, not everyone’s story ends this way. That doesn’t make God any less good, wise, right, or sovereign. And although it was a struggle to get there, joy would come. Not because her prayers were answered the way she wanted them to be, but because she began to worship God for Who He was despite what she was going through. The secret to her joy was found in her worship. And joy was found in the hard places because she worshiped there too.


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