Hannah as a Mother
"So in the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying: Because I asked the LORD for him." 1 Samuel 1:20
It was a long while ago that Hannah lived, and the fashions have changed so greatly, and there has been such advancement in all the arts of life since she brought up her boy, that it may seem idle to study the story in these wise, modern days; yet the little time necessary to look at the old picture may not be altogether wasted.
For one thing, Hannah, as a mother, was enthusiastic. She was not one of those women who think children undesirable encumbrances. She did not consider herself, in her earlier married years, particularly fortunate in being free from the cares and responsibilities of motherhood. She believed that children were blessings from the Lord, that motherhood was the highest honor possible to a woman, and she sought, reverently and very earnestly, from God, the privilege of pressing a little child to her bosom and calling it her own.
This line in the ancient picture, we must not overlook in these days, when children are not always looked upon as blessings from the Lord, nor even always welcomed.
For another thing, when Hannah's child came she considered it a part of her religious duty to take care of it. Instead, therefore, of going up to Shiloh to attend all the great feasts, as she had done before, she stayed at home for some time to give personal attention to the little one that God had given her, and that was still too young to be taken with safety and comfort on such long journeys. "When the man Elkanah went up with all his family to offer the annual sacrifice to the LORD and to fulfill his vow, Hannah did not go. She said to her husband: After the boy is weaned, I will take him and present him before the LORD, and he will live there always." 1 Samuel 1:21-22
No doubt she supposed that she was worshiping God just as acceptably in doing this, as if she had gone up to all the great meetings. And who will say that she was not right? A mother's first obligations are to her children. She can have no holier or more sacred duties than those which relate to them. No amount of public religious service will atone for neglect of these. She may run to church and missionary meetings and abound in all kinds of charitable activities, and may do very much good among the poor, carrying blessings to many other homes and being a blessing to other people's children, through the Sunday school or mission school; but if she fails meanwhile to care for her own children properly, she can scarcely be commended as a faithful Christian mother. She has overlooked her first and most sacred duties, to give her hand and heart to those that are but secondary to her.
Hannah's way evidently was the true one. A mother had better be missed in the church and at the public meetings — than be missed in her own household. Some things must be crowded out of every earnest life — but the last thing to be crowded out of a mother's life, should be the faithful and loving care of her children.
The preacher may urge that everyone should do something in the general work of the church, and the superintendent may appeal for teachers for the Sunday school — but the mother herself must decide whether the Master really needs her to take up any religious work outside her own home. For the work there, she surely is responsible; for work outside her home, she is not responsible until the other is well done.
Another thing about Hannah, was that she looked after her own baby. She brought up the child herself. She did not hire a woman at so much a week, and then commit her tender child to her care, that she herself might have "a free foot" for parties and calls and operas, and social and religious duties. She was old-fashioned enough to prefer to bring up her own child.
She does not seem to have felt it any great personal deprivation to be kept at home rather closely for a year or two on this account. She even appears to have thought it a high honor and a distinguished privilege to be a mother, and to do with her own hands a mother's duties.
And when we think what this child that she nurtured became in after years, what the outcome was of all her pains and toils — it certainly looks as if Hannah was right. It is not likely she ever regretted, when she saw her son in the prime and splendor of his power and usefulness, that she had missed a few parties and other social privileges in nurturing and caring for Samuel in his tender infancy.
If anything even half so good comes ordinarily out of faithful mothering, there are certainly few occupations open to women, even in these advanced twentieth-century days, which will yield such satisfactory results in the end, as the wise and true bringing up of children.
Many women are sighing for distinction in a profession; but, after all, is there any distinction so noble, so honorable, so worthy and so enduring — as that which a true woman wins when she has brought up a son who takes his place in the ranks of godly and true men?
Could Mary, the mother of Jesus, have found any mission, in any century, greater than that of nursing and caring for the holy child that was laid in her arms? Or, if that example is too high, could the mothers of Moses, of Samuel, of Augustine, of President Garfield, have done more for the world if they had devoted themselves to a profession?
Perhaps Hannah was right, and if so, the old-fashioned motherhood is better than the new — and the mother herself is her own child's best nurturer. A hired woman may be very skillful — but surely she cannot be the best one to mold the soul of the child, and awaken and draw out its powers and affections. The mother may thus be left free to pursue the fashionable round of dining and dressing, of amusements and social engagements — but what is coming meanwhile of the tender, immortal life at home in the nursery, thus left practically motherless, to be nurtured and trained by a hireling stranger?
And what becomes of the holy mission of motherhood which the birth of every child lays upon her who gave it life?
A recent writer, referring to this subject, asks: "Our women prove traitorous to the first of all fidelities, the most solemn of all responsibilities — their children. Is there any wrongdoing like unto this? We hear fashionable young mothers boast that they are not tied down to their children — but are free to keep in the old mirthful life; as though there was no shame to the soul of womanhood therein."
Such a boast is one of the saddest confessions a mother could make. The great need of this age is mothers who will live with their own children, and throw over their tender lives all the mighty power of their own rich, warm, loving natures. If we can have a generation of Hannahs — we shall then have a generation of Samuels growing up under their wise, devoted nurture.
There is one other feature in this old-time mother that should not be overlooked. She nursed her child for the Lord. From the very first, she looked upon him as God's child, not hers — and considered herself only God's nurse, whose duty it was to bring up the child for a holy life and service. It is easy to see what a dignity and splendor this gave to the whole toilsome round of motherly tasks and duties which the successive days brought to her hand.
This was God's child that she was nursing, and she was bringing him up for the Lord's service in two worlds. Nothing ever seemed drudgery, no duty to her little one was hard or distasteful, with this thought ever glowing in her heart.
Need any woman have loftier or more powerful inspiration for toil and self-forgetfulness than this? And is there any mother who may not have the same inspiration, as she goes through her round of commonplace nursery tasks? Was Samuel God's child in any higher sense, when Hannah was nursing him — than are the little ones that he in the arms of thousands of mothers today?
In every mother's ears, when a baby is laid in her bosom, there is spoken, by the breath of the Lord, the holy whisper, if she but has ears to hear the divine voice, "Take this child and nurse it for Me!"
Every mother is, by the very lot of motherhood when it falls upon her, consecrated to the sacred service of nursing, molding and training an infant life for God. Hannah understood this, and found her task full of glory. But how many, even among Christian mothers, fail to understand it, and, unsustained by a consciousness of the dignity and blessedness of this high calling, look upon its duties and self-denials as painful tasks — a round of toilsome, wearisome drudgery?
It will be well worth while for every mother to sit down quietly beside Hannah, and try to learn her secret. It will change the humblest nursery into a holy sanctuary — and transform the commonest, lowliest duties of motherhood into services as splendid as those the radiant angels perform before the Father's face.
"So that the older women may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored." Titus 2:4-5