It is easy to give away something you haven’t got, or is it? Certainly my husband thought so. When my womb quickened with the child I had desired for so many years, and I told him of my vow, his first response was to shake his head in incredulity. He thought I had done something very foolish, which I was going to regret enormously once I had to relinquish the child to the priests. He did not understand that, even deeper than my longing for a child, was my fear that God had forgotten me; that I had been somehow overlooked in the divine plan, or else that was simply unworthy to ever receive the gift of a child.
But the Lord had heard me, had understood me, and responded to my desperate prayer. My husband did not understand the depth of my grief; man-like he had said to me, “Aren’t I enough for you?” How could I answer that? And my rival, sleek in the triumph of her motherhood, would goad me with her taunts until my every thought oozed bitterness and grief. And the priest thought I was a foolish drunkard, profaning the tabernacle with my inappropriate behaviour. But the Lord heard my prayer and had mercy on my grief, and gave me the child I had been aching for. And I had promised to give the child back to Him as soon as he was weaned.
It was too much for my family. My husband, who already had sons and daughters aplenty from Peninnah’s womb, said only that I must do what seemed best to me. And my rival? She was silenced by my choice. No longer could she mock me for barrenness, but my choice to give the child away totally confused her. All her married life she had used her children as weapons, a means of keeping score against me because she knew Elkanah loved me more: now, having conceived, I had chosen an inconceivable action which undid her whole system of thinking. But we had never understood one another.
Yes, of course there were hard moments – moments when I looked at my nursing child and wondered if I would ever have the strength to let him go. But then, all motherhood is a journey of letting go, from the moment the child exits one’s body, through learning to walk, weaning, learning, growing .. all the way until they marry and leave home. Every step is a step away from the circle of their mother’s arms. My Samuel was just going to go through the process faster than most.
Then came the time of his weaning and the journey to Shiloh. I had expected it to be difficult, but to my amazement it was not. The child seemed to understand perfectly – so perfectly that I had to believe that the Lord himself had been preparing Samuel for the place he had been called to – to serve at the Tabernacle of the Lord all the days of his life. When the moment of parting came, and I presented the child to Eli, instead of being torn and broken by the grief of farewell I was filled with joy: wild, fierce and exultant like the cry of the eagle soaring into the wind. It was a joy that could not be contained and, to the astonishment of all who knew me, I burst into a song of praise to the God who turns man’s injustice upside down! In that moment I knew the whole point and purpose of the surrender God had asked of me – that this child would grow to be his great servant in Israel, prophet priest and judge, set apart to Him from birth. And my arms would not be left empty, I would go back to bear more children in thankfulness and joy.