It's hard to see others getting what you want. Hannah knew this all too well, yearning and aching for one thing...a child. She never knew the cry of new life or the joys of parenting. Even though she was intimate with God, He did not give her the one thing that she longed for most.
In the marketplace women whispered, "What did Hannah do so wrong that the Lord would close her womb?" Enter Peninnah stage right. Penninah was her husband's other wife. (I can't even imagine what dinner was like at that house.) But Samuel pretty much sums it up: "Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none" (1 Samuel 1:2).
As if that wasn't enough heart ache for Hannah, the daggers go deeper. "Because the LORD had closed her womb, her [Hannah's] rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the LORD, her rival, [Penninah], provoked her until she wept and would not eat" (I Samuel 1:6, emphasis added).
This not only happened once to Hannah, this was Peninnah's provoking goal! Have you ever had someone nag you to the point of tears? At work. At school. At church. Mean people attack anywhere, anytime. I learned took a few hits from mean girls even in my youth:
When I got in the car that day, I exploded with everything that had happened to my mother. Looking for her to vindicate and sympathize with me, her 5th grade daughter. I explained how rude Jennifer had been to me, again. As we were both sopranos in the choir, we were forced to stand next to each other and share a music folder. "She never shares the music with me. She's rude to everyone, glaring down her nose at them and saying mean things. And I have to sit next to her. It's not fair!"
My mother told me that she had a solution. I think I was hoping on maybe kidnapping Jennifer's family pet, toilet papering her house, or forcing her to go to another school, but my mom replied, "You should invite her over to spend the night this weekend."
"Are you insane? She'll probably kill me in my sleep!" I was enraged and felt my mother did not fully understand the gravity of the situation, but my mom kept pressing the issue. So, I invited her. I knew that she would probably say no, and if she did say yes, then my mom would understand once and for all what a jerk Jennifer was.
However, Jennifer said yes. And the strangest things happened that Friday night. From the moment she got in my mother's car, Jennifer acted like my best friend. It was a typical Friday night of movies, giggling, and eating junk food. Late that night Jennifer told me that she'd never been invited to anyone's house to spend the night before. Then she added an interesting question, "Angel, why does everyone hate me?"
Jennifer was simply reacting to her perceptions of everyone else's opinion, responding in hatred to guard herself. Our sin is simply misguided energy. It's usually a legitimate need met in an inappropriate way. I'm not saying that we should rationalize sin away because we're all "needy Nellies," but if we're trying to understand how in the world we could ever respond in love when someone is so awful to us, realizing their hurt and insecurity serves as a helpful catalyst.
Now, think back to Peninnah. Her cruel words and spiteful prodding derived from the fact that her husband loved Hannah more and made it very clear that he did. He even gave Hannah double portions of food, just so everyone in the house knew that Hannah was his fave! Peninnah's painful need for exclusive love bubbled over into anger, vengeance, and one mean woman.
God hears our cries, whether it be for rescue from mean people or for the ability to bear a child. He hears us.
And He heard Hannah's prayer and finally gave her a baby boy. This boy would come to change history, a prophet to kings and all of Israel-Samuel. Pain and prayer can create great things. Never give up on God, even if you have a Penninah in your life badgering you to the point of misery. Keep praying for a hope greater than the pain.
He will give you the strength to love and pray for everyone, even our enemies. Take time to pray for one "Peninnah" in your life to be drawn to God through your love or through His, even if you are hurting, like Hannah.