Peninnah tossed her perfectly matted hair and sighed. Things weren’t going as she had meticulously planned. She was a type A sort of woman and she didn’t usually fear making her presence known. She had jumped at the thought of marrying Elk five years ago. He held prominent status in their town. He was attractive and very handsome, chiseled face, deep eyes… She could go on. Peninnah knew that Elk loved God when she married him, but she figured on changing that. However….that hadn’t gone as planned either. Worse yet was that Elk had another wife….Yep you heard right…another wife. Peninnah knew she would out win this girl in a beauty pageant any day. This Hannah woman was so homely and way to spiritual to ever be called attractive. Elk had married her first but even that didn’t stop Peninnah or discourage her when she took her vows. Hannah the “other wife” was more of the spiritual type like her first husband. Peninnah could simply imagine how terrible Hannah felt when her husband declared that he was getting married again. Peninnah laughed as she filed her already perfect nails. Hannah needed to learn a lesson or two. But Hannah had been kind. Peninnah had been shocked. Despite Peninnah’s Vouge appropriate looks…her hubby just was not interested. She had even given him children!!! What was he thinking???? Peninnah knew she was far more sophisticated and sexy than Hannah. So why was she unhappy? Despite Elk’s denials it was obvious that Elk loved and cherished Hannah. She was the treasured wife while Peninnah was….the mama only wife. The wife that was only valuable because of her body and what she could produce. She sighed, something had to be done. She was not going to stand for it.
Hannah smoothed her skirts after rising from her rose garden to pray. She wiped a tear away. For years she had prayed and begged God for a son. Ever since she was a little girl all she wanted to be was a mommy. She knew she couldn’t complain, her husband loved her. She was struggling to allow God to define her. She still felt like such a disappointment to her husband. The reason he married again was so that he could have an heir (idea taken from HCSB Study Bible for Women). Oh, how she longed to do that herself. Being hospitable to Peninnah the beauty queen was terribly trying. Hannah knew God had a reason for this pain but at times it was still difficult to bear. Everyday Hannah begged God to help her love Peninnah. Every time Peninnah went in with her husband Hannah had to bite her lip to keep from crying. Just yesterday Peninnah taunted her for being barren. She sashayed her strawberry blonde hair and smirked saying ,”maybe next year”. At times it was hard to love her husband for taking another wife. It was as if their wedding vows meant next to nothing. She sighed…men were not meant to be understood.
She and Elk went to the house of God every year. Peninnah’s taunting increased. Sometimes it was her words or her coy looks which she always managed to sneak in when Elk was out of earshot. Hannah left their tiny tent and went for a walk. She didn’t go far…just far away to be removed from Peinnah’s sassiness and Barbie like perfection. She eased her weary body in front of a tree and cried bitterly. “Lord, I’m trying to trust You. But I’m failing miserably. Please hold me together. I’m so broken”. The words stopped but the tears continued to stream. Suddenly Hannah heard footsteps. Hannah willed herself to stop sobbing though the tears continued to flow. Oh, how she hoped it was not Peninnah. But no, it was Elk. Her dear, strong Elk. Hannah was tempted to turn away. After all he was partially responsible for getting her in this mess. But no, that was not the heart of a godly woman.
“What’s the matter Hannah”?
“Don’t you see? I’m barren. There’s something wrong with me!? “ Despite the fact that she knew she looked ridiculous Hannah continued to sob. Her Mary Kay mascara ran down her stained cheeks.
Tenderly Elk smoothed Hannah’s brown hair. Hannah struggled to love her brown hair. Peninnah had lush, thick, strawberry blonde that turned every man’s head.
“I love you Hannah”. He loved me? Oh, Hannah knew it was true, but it was so reassuring to her the proclamation. “Thank you Lord, Hannah” whispered.
“Hannah, aren’t I more valuable to you than ten sons?”
Hannah looked at him through her messy eyes and smiled. She wanted to add, aren’t I of more value to you than children or having another model wife? But she closed her lips and asked God for forgiveness in one defining swoop.
She clasped his hand. It must be so difficult for him to balance having two women. The poor man was trapped in an emotional rollercoaster daily. Hannah threw away her thoughts of leaving. She was committed to this man who loved her God more than her.
The next day Hannah prayed at the entrance of the tabernacle. She was ready to surrender her dream to God, but she still felt it her duty to be persistent. And so, Hannah sought the Lord earnestly. Her heart flooded with the words that her mouth could not bear to utter in public.
“Excuse me. Are you drunk?”
Hannah gasped and turned. It was Eli the priest.
“Oh, no. I have a broken heart and was pouring my heart, a broken vessel out to God. I have never had more than a sip of wine in my life”.
“I am sorry for the accusation. I pray that God blesses you with the desires of your heart”.
Hannah left with her face all a glow. She was ready to trust God. Taking Elk’s hand, they prayed, worshipping the Lord and surrendering their dreams to Him.
She smiled upon returning home. Peninnah was standing in front of the tent with her hands on her hips and a smirk on her face. Oh, boy Hannah thought. Lord, please give me strength. She prayed but already Hannah felt overflowed with the peace of God and she purposed to love Peninnah more than yesterday.
Peninnah wouldn’t be forced into the tabernacle unless her life depended on it. But why on earth was Hannah smiling so. It irked Peninnah. She was going to find out. What could’ve happened at the silly tabernacle that made Hannah’s face shine?
That evening it was Hannah, that Elk wanted to spend time with not her. Peninnah was upset but she tried to smother it. Peninnah watched Hannah like a hawk. Hannah had this peace about her and Hannah didn’t lash out at Peninnah. Hannah would braid her girls hair and read her children bed time stories when Hannah didn’t think Peninnah was watching. Peninnah sighed. There was something so pure about this woman that Peninnah couldn’t understand. Hannah had a natural beauty. Peninnah continued to watch. She watched Hannah pray every night. Once or twice Peninnah heard Hannah beg God to heal her, Peninnah. Peninnah gasped inwardly as she heard her name. Hannah was praying that she Peninnah would have healing. Peninnah turned away quickly before the veil of perfection was shred.
The months passed, and it was soon noticeable that Hannah was plumper. At first Peninnah justified this as Hannah gaining weight. She had not been attending weight watchers or watching her brownie helpings. But soon Peninnah could no longer deny the obvious .Hannah ,the woman of prayer and model of perfection, was pregnant. Peninnah scowled. Now, Peninnah felt worthless. Even nearly starving herself would never win herself the affection she so craved.
The day came for Hannah’s baby shower. Hannah was so excited. The sun streamed into the tent floor dancing with promises of hope. Hannah realized that during her season of unending winter God had become closer to her than ever before. Hannah didn’t want that closeness to end. And so she prayed, thanking God for answering her prayer and promising to rededicate her baby to God. The baby shower was wonderful. In the middle of the tissue paper, and nostalgic sayings from older ladies, Hannah noticed that Peninnah was not present. Hannah had invited her. Giving her new onesie and cup of coffee to her sister. Hannah quietly excused herself grabbing a chocolate mocha on the way out. The women smiled, thinking she had to relieve herself. Hannah slipped outside of the tent, past the children gathered, to the tree a few yards away. Hannah saw Peninnah curled up in a ball. That day she wasn’t wearing makeup. Her face looked strained and pained. Hannah’s heart went out to her with an ache that overwhelmed her soul.
Peninnah saw Hannah coming. A surprised look crossed her face but Peninnah didn’t ask Hannah to leave.
“I brought you a cup of coffee. There’s extra whipped cream on top just the way you like it”.
“You didn’t have to do that”.
Hannah kneeled down. It was rather awkward for her since it was almost her time.
Hannah began to cry softly and she whispered softly, “I’m sorry Peninnah. I’m sorry”.
Peninnah began to cry to and the two women embraced.
“I know life has been difficult for you but God loves you so much. And I’m sorry because I have been such a bad example of HIS love. I’ve had to allow God to define my beauty. All that time when I wanted a child I thought a baby would make me beautiful. You’re gorgeous and had lots of children and I’m ashamed to say it but I was jealous of you. I had to ask God to help me to love you because God loved me when I didn’t love Him. Peninnah, God loves you so much. He wants you to belong to Him”.
Peninnah wiped away her tears, no longer ashamed of their presence.
“I’m so sorry Hannah for the way I treated you. I want to know your God. I want to belong to Him”.
Hannah trembled and prayed inwardly for strength. And right there in the most unlikely place the two most unlikely people prayed together. Peninnah accepted Christ as her LORD and Savior. Hearts were healed because God is greater than the divides we set up ourselves.
With arms around each other they walked back to the tent for the rest of the shower.
Soon after the baby was born. The tent was full with the midwife, Elk, and all of Peninnah’s children. It took awhile but finally Peninnah came in. She trembled. Now she was a daughter of the king but she sill wondered if it was okay. But Peninnah saw Hannah’s smile Peninnah was reassured. Hannah smiled and said, “Come see my baby. We named him Samuel because He was a gift from the LORD”. Hannah’s face glowed with an eternal awe. Peninnah smiled as she tenderly reached out to touch the tip of tiny Samuel’s nose.
The years passed again. Samuel grew. And then the time came to send Samuel to the temple. Hannah didn’t eat for days before. Her heart ached. Peninnah watched. How could this woman have so much strength? How? How could she trust God so much? Maybe God wouldn’t expect her to keep her promise?
But Hannah didn’t back down. With eyes full of tears and resolve Hannah left with Samuel and Elk for their yearly meeting at the tabernacle. This year Peninnah went too. She wanted to know more of her God.
Upon reaching home Hannah wept. God had given her what she desired and now her hands were empty. It was satisfying feeling to have obeyed God but also left her very empty.
Peninnah came over with a cup of coffee gave Hannah a hug and said “can I pray for you”?
Hannah smiled through the tears and together they prayed.
The Lord remembered Hannah and gave her more children.
I don’t know what struggles you are facing. But God is so faithful. He doesn’t always give us the deepest longings of our hearts but if we allow Him to, He can fill our longings with Himself. We must take that deep yearning and sacrifice it to Him. It is our gift of worship. Let the maker of the galaxies define your beauty. He died for you, so let Him define who you are.
1 Samuel 1-2