I’m guessing that every family and every culture comes to holidays with expectations. And every culture that has holidays that are about being thankful, about giving thanks, has expectations that we need to be grateful.
As person who isn’t a big fan of most traditional Thanksgiving foods, it’s a little challenging to give thanks as you bow your head over food you don’t really like.
But it’s more challenging when you look back on a year that has deep grief and loss in it. Or when you are looking ahead with uncertainty.
So how do you say what you are thankful for when you aren’t really thankful for what you have?
Hannah was at a meal like that. It was the meal following the sacrifice at the annual trip to the tabernacle. Once a year, Elkanah and Hannah and Peninnah and her children would travel up to Shiloh, where the altar of God was. They would offer a sacrifice to God, thanking him for what he had provided, asking him for forgiveness, praying for blessing for the future. The whole family took time off from regular life and went up.
After the sacrifice, they would feast. Elkanah would serve the meat. And as he moved from wife to wife, from child to child, Hannah was reminded that none of the children were hers. In a culture which would eventually write a song for the journey to the temple that said, “children are a blessing from God”, she felt un-blessed, un-noticed by God.
And it’s important to this story to note that Peninnah constantly reminded Hannah of this. People, and their expectations, kept eating at her ability to believe that Elkanah, and God, might care.
This year, it finally got to her. She eventually moved away from the table and went to the tabernacle to pray.
The tent of meeting was a big enclosure. You could stand by the entrance and see the altar, and see the Holy of Holies, a tent that represented the presence of God. Hannah stood near the entrance and in her anguish, she prayed. All the pain, all the feelings. She talked to God. She poured out her soul.
After a bit of confusion, Eli, the priest, said to her “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”
And she goes, with a sense of having been heard. And she has a baby that year, a baby that would eventually take Eli’s place.
Deep pain, deep prayer, an affirming response, a return to the table.
There is no evidence that the teasing stopped. But Hannah felt heard by God.
I have a suggestion for this Thanksgiving. Before getting to the table of expectations, where some of us are afraid that someone will ask us what we are thankful for and we will struggle to know how to answer, may I suggest that we spend some time with God saying, “I hurt. I’m not sure how you’ve blessed me this year. Can we talk?”
The deaths, the accidents, the illness, the changes, the lack of changes.
Hannah’s willingness to talk to the one who hadn’t blessed her in the one way that she wanted to be blessed is a powerful model.
And Eli’s ultimate response is a good example, too. He didn’t get involved in family counseling. He didn’t give her tools or techniques for living. He simply prayed a blessing.
“Go in peace. May God give you what you asked.