I was sixteen years old, confused, and tired. I had a thousand little journals with themes like “becoming a woman of God,” “finding your calling,” and “biblical femininity.” But I still hadn’t found the answers I needed. I was weary. Who had God made me to be? What was I to do with my life? What did the words of the Bible mean for me as a young woman?
Years earlier, when I was only twelve, the girls’ Bible study I attended discussed marriage and homemaking. We learned that the Proverbs 31 woman was everything that a woman was supposed to be—submissive, married, nurturing, and at home. It seemed as though all the good women of the Bible—the Proverbs 31 woman, Hannah, Sarah, and many more—were wives and mothers. God called them to get married and have babies, so we should do the same. But I couldn’t see myself being only a wife and mother. I was different.
The homeschooling community in which I was raised was rich in faith and family, but things in my home were unconventional. Other mothers stayed home, but mine worked outside of the home. Other families attended church together, but my father never joined us there. While my Bible studies told me I should get married and have kids, my parents encouraged me to go to college, and that was my desire. While all the other girls wore skirts that reached all the way to the floor, I wore jeans and a hoodie. Slowly, I began to resent both God and the Proverbs 31 woman for sentencing me to skirts and spatulas.
I was a confused and broken teenager, questioning God. “When will you show me what I am supposed to do with my life? Who am I supposed to be? I’ve heard so many versions of these Scriptures, I’ve been hurt, and I want to know what to do.” God answered me with Hannah.
I had spent most of my young life knowing of Hannah as the barren woman who wanted a baby and was blessed with a child who later became Israel’s leader. But the portrayal of Hannah as a “glorified homemaker” only increased my fear and resentment of God. I value family and marriage greatly, but after years of hearing that marriage and family were my highest callings, I became hopeless; I felt like God had other things in mind for me. As I began to read the Bible for myself, trying to let go of the stereotypes and prejudices I learned growing up, I saw Hannah in a brand new way—one that gave me healing and hope.
Hannah was a young woman with deep desires and a love for God. Like me, she was broken and weary. She cried out to God, deeply wounded by the fact that she could not live up to her community’s expectation for women: motherhood. She was different from the other women, and was the object of their scorn. The text says that her husband’s other wife provoked her for years, so much that Hannah even stopped eating (1 Sam 1:6–7). No doubt she was confused and asked God the same questions I asked. “Why did you make me this way? What did you create me for, if not to have children?”
In time, God gave Hannah a son, but motherhood was never her highest calling; motherhood was only part of her calling. Hannah’s story has been remembered and retold for thousands of years, not because she fulfilled a call to motherhood, or even because her son became a great leader. She is remembered because God put her in a position to stand out from the other women, to show his people what true faithfulness and surrender are about. Hannah is honored for her earnest prayers, her faithful commitment, and her complete surrender to the Lord.
I no longer believe that Hannah’s story is in the Bible to teach girls that motherhood should be their ultimate goal. In fact, she didn’t even raise her own son, but gave him over to God and to service in the Temple. Hannah teaches both women and men how to fully surrender to God’s call, even if it is different from what our friends and neighbors expect. Only in that place of surrender will we find true joy, comfort, and peace.
We easily forget that the most important commandment is not to live up to expectations, but to love the Lord our God. The second command is to love others, and if we do the first, we will also do the second. Sometimes we forget that God loves us—perhaps Hannah even forgot this at first. But that’s the beauty of her story—she was lost, broken, and weary from years of failing to meet the expectations placed upon her. And then she devoted herself to prayer. She surrendered her dream of motherhood to God when she promised that if she had a son, he would belong to the Lord, not to her. She followed the call to pray, surrender, and give. Hannah’s story taught me that there is no one holy like the Lord, and no calling greater than surrender to God.
My story is that of a broken person, often confused and weary, yet always loved completely by a mighty God. No matter how much your story differs from mine, I believe that you are also broken yet loved. First Samuel 2:4 says, “the bows of the warriors are broken, but those who stumbled are armed with strength.” This describes Hannah, it describes me, and it probably describes you. But don’t be ashamed or afraid, for the one who arms you with strength knows you and your calling. I once thought that my life had to be a certain way because of what other Christians told me—maybe you think that, too. Listen to God, follow the example of Hannah, and let God inform your life. Allow your highest calling to be complete surrender to the one, true God.