When I was 16 years old, my worst nightmare was that I would never get married. At the time, I just knew that there was something so utterly unattractive about me that no one would ever want to marry me.
Sixteen years later, I’m still single, but I now know that there are far worse nightmares than not being married. I no longer have such rock-bottom self-esteem, and I’ve found so many blessings in being single and have tried to thrive in the various roles in my life.
But that doesn’t mean the years of singlehood haven’t brought struggles. There have been hundreds of prayers asking for the deepest desires of my heart to be fulfilled. There have been dozens of nights filled with loneliness and sobbing. There have been a lot of questions along the way: Why, when I’m doing everything I can to live a righteous life, am I not able to find my husband? Why, when there are many who neglect or hurt their children, am I not given the blessing of motherhood?
I know. Asking “why?” rarely leads toward gratitude and happiness. It can leave us mired in a pit of negativity and self-pity. But I also feel that when you are in the midst of a long-term sorrow and challenge, you have to find meaning for the path you are on. As Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl said, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how.’”
Sacrificing for Blessings
As I’ve looked for the meaning behind my situation, I have been taught at the Lord’s feet, little by little. A few years ago, a scriptural story was my guide for enduring even when things aren’t going my way.
In 1 Samuel, we read the story of Hannah, a righteous woman in Israel. We know her as the mother of the great prophet Samuel, but before she was his mother, she was a woman desperately wanting a child. Like Sarah and Elizabeth, she was one of several biblical women who was barren late into her life. I’ve come to form a kinship with these women as I too look forward to the children I have yet to meet.
As many women and men have done since her time, Hannah took her grief to the house of the Lord, “in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore” (1 Samuel 1:10).
And she vowed a vow, and said, O Lord of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life. (1 Samuel 1:11; emphasis added)
This is a prayer of desperation. Every time I read her story, the vow Hannah makes floors me. She, who ached for a child even to the point of not eating (see 1 Samuel 1:7), was willing to give up this child to the service of the Lord just for the privilege of bearing the child. What a vow to vow!
Waiting upon the Lord
Just think of the pain that brought Hannah to this vow. You don’t make that vow the first time you pray for something you deeply want. No, that vow is made after thousands of prayers. That vow is made after much prayer and fasting—prayer and fasting that knits your very soul to the Lord. It is only a soul that contrite and that broken that would be willing to give up a long-sought-for child to the service of the Lord.
The very struggle of waiting changed Hannah into the woman God needed her to be. In a 1998 BYU devotional, Professor Lynn Clark Callister explained the power of spiritual waiting:
Wait in Hebrew means to hope for, to anticipate. In a gospel context, waiting on the Lord connotes hopeful anticipation, submission to the Lord’s will, and trusting in the Lord. . . . Waiting requires continual self-examination, constantly trying to become more worthy, an ever-deepening and progressive discipleship of a broken heart, a contrite spirit, a yielded will, and a consecration of self. (“‘They That Wait upon the Lord’: Metaphor and Meaning,” 12 May 1998)
Hannah had truly become a consecrated woman.
Hannah’s son Samuel wouldn’t be just any priest. After years of wickedness and desecration from the high priests and judges of Israel, Samuel’s leadership saves Israel from spiritual destruction. Without him the Bible and the story of God’s people would end before David slew Goliath or Daniel calmed lions. There would be no temple in Jerusalem and no psalms sung in praise of Jehovah. Samuel is the answer to Israel’s prayers, and his life and service came because of Hannah’s immense sacrifice.
All of Hannah’s waiting, all that praying, was a pathway divinely laid out for Hannah to walk. Each tear shed, each moment of unfulfilled hope, changed her desires and led her to the place God designed her to be—a place where she is willing to give her child as the “faithful priest” that God raises up (1 Samuel 2:35). In one of Israel’s most desperate moments, it was the selflessness and righteousness of Hannah that saved the day.
The Lord’s Wondrous Path
I wonder if God is leading me somewhere with all of my own waiting. I wonder if He has a greater plan for me than I can imagine. I wonder if He is molding my heart, asking for more contrition, more trust, and more love for Him. And with that heart, I wonder if He’ll do something great with me. Likewise, is the Lord doing something great with your particular struggles and sorrows?
My path most assuredly will look different than Hannah’s. Maybe a later-than-expected marriage will open my heart to adopting children. Maybe the freedom of my singlehood will allow me to play a larger role in nurturing a struggling niece or nephew. Maybe my experience living outside the familial norms of the Church will help me fellowship others that may not fit those norms. Maybe there are multiple opportunities to be an instrument in the Lord’s hand on the path He’s paving for me, and it will be the very experiences I struggle with the most that will make me most equipped to serve where the Lord needs me.
While I still try my best to hold on to hope that marriage and motherhood are in my future, I know that there are more midnight tears and bouts of loneliness and meaninglessness ahead for me. But Hannah’s story helps me reorient myself back on God’s path for me. It’s sometimes hard to believe there really is a path, but I’m working to think more like Hannah, who sang: “My heart rejoiceth in the Lord, . . . the Lord is a God of knowledge, . . . He will keep the feet of his saints” (1 Samuel 2:1, 3, 9).