1 Samuel 1:4-18
On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah said to her, "Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?"
After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. She made this vow: "O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head." As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk. So Eli said to her, "How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine." But Hannah answered, "No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time." Then Eli answered, "Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him." And she said, "Let your servant find favor in your sight." Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer.
Lamentations 2:18 – 19
Cry aloud to the Lord! O wall of daughter Zion! Let tears stream down like a torrent day and night! Give yourself no rest, your eyes no respite! Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches! Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord!
At the time of this story, Hannah’s whole worth in society hinged on her ability to bear sons. Her husband’s love is touching and heart-warming, but it does not erase how society sees her. Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah, is said to be Hannah’s rival. In true form she digs at Hannah’s self-esteem and social status every chance she gets. Hannah feels worthless. She isn’t measuring up to who she is told she is supposed to be. And there is nothing she can do about it.
In her desperation she goes to God. She pours herself out like the scripture in Lamentations encourages us to do. She is mistaken by the priest, Eli, to be a drunken women making a spectacle of herself in the temple. She was praying, but no sound was coming out of her moving lips. That alone doesn’t seem like much of a spectacle to me. Why would he mistake her for being drunk? Was she standing while rocking back and forth in her great anxiety and vexation? Was she sitting while passionately gesturing with her hands and arms? What would cause Eli to accuse her of making a drunken spectacle of herself?
In the second chapter of Acts the people accused the disciples of Christ of being drunk when they started speaking in other tongues and getting excited. But they were just letting their guard down and experiencing the presence of God.
Hannah too let her guard down. She sought after the presence of God. She presented herself before the Lord in no uncertain terms. She poured herself out in her distress and made a vow to God. The way she poured herself out like water was as if she were Niagara Falls. I believe this is why Eli thought she was drunk. It was the sheer force of her pouring.
Grief and desperation expressed fully make us a little out of control, like alcohol. They flood our body with their energies. They reshape our thinking. They make us a little off balance. And that can be scary. We don’t want to be off balance. We don’t want to be out of control.
There are many times and many places where being out of control and off balance isn’t good for us. But there are other times when it is exactly the right thing for us to do. Hannah presented herself before God. She got real with God. It might have unnerved the priest a little, but he got over it. She needed to not hold it all in anymore.
Sometimes we need to not hold it all in anymore. Antiseptic mourning and polite desperation may be how we have to maintain ourselves in public, but when we go before God we can real. You can let down your guard in the presence of God. And sometimes, you will even find a person or two who can sit with you if you end up pouring yourself out like Niagara Falls.
There are scenes in movies, iconic scenes, that express for us what we feel like we dare not speak for ourselves. In “It’s A Wonderful Life” George Bailey prays, “God. Oh God. Dear Father in heaven. I’m not a praying man but if you’re up there and you can hear me, show me the way. I’m at the end of my rope. Show me the way, God.” In the movie, “Keeping The Faith,” Father Brian Finn pours out his heart, not in prayer but in storytelling. Neither of these men seem to be able to access their expression of despair and grief unaided. They both turn to drink. Maybe that’s another reason why Eli thought Hannah was drunk. He was used to seeing people need an aid in order to open their hearts.
We watch these scenes and it is a way for us to tap into our own stuff at a safe distance. We may cry. We may examine some of our own inner workings. But pouring our own hearts out like water comes harder. And it should. It isn’t always the right time. It would be exhausting if we lived that way day in and day out. But sometimes it is the right time. Sometimes there is a right place.
I also want to acknowledge that each one of us is different. The way we pour ourselves out won’t be the same. While for some it may be like Niagara Falls, for others it may be more like the steady stream of a faucet. There isn’t one right way to pour out our hearts.
In those times when you feel worthless and you are tired of it, pour yourself out to God.
When you are in great anxiety and vexation, pour yourself out to God.
And when you are wrapped in joy and hope …. yes, even then …. pour yourself out to God.
After God answered Hannah she replied by pouring her heart out once again. This is the beginning part of her prayer in chapter 2,
“My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory. There is no Holy One like the LORD, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.”
To which I say, Amen and Hallelujah.