1 Samuel 1:21-2:11
As I read of Hanna raising and preparing her son Samuel, until he is old enough to be apprenticed at the temple, today as every day I’ve read her words put a lump of emotion in my throat: “For this child I prayed; and the LORD has granted me the petition that I made… Therefore I have lent him to the LORD; as long as he lives, he is given to the LORD.” (vv. 27-28). As someone who, like Hanna in the first part of the chapter, has not been able to have a child of my own yet, but together with my wife has prayed for it to happen, whether through natural means or adoption, I can imagine the joy and wonder, gratitude and love that swelled in Hanna’s heart upon hearing the news she would have a son to call her own. I can imagine, too, what wonder it was to hold in her arms a little boy who was hers. And it catches my breath every time I see it, to read of her courage to honor her promise to God and devote her little one to the Lord, apprenticing him to the priests of the holy place when he comes of age. It must have felt like giving up her most precious gift, her most important relationship. Yet she recognizes in this moment that this child is from God, and will return to God, so she must say he belongs to God, as long as he lives.
You know we aren’t called to necessarily physically surrender our children to someone else to raise from childhood on to give them to God, but I do think in many ways the prayer Hanna prays is what we are called to pray not just for our children but for all who matter to us. It is easy when we love someone, especially a child, but even a spouse or partner, a parent, a brother or sister, or even a close friend, to long to keep them close, to keep them safe. We may not want our relationship with them to change, or them to change. We can resent if they feel called to move whether to answer God’s call for ministry and missions, God’s call to further their education, or even God’s call for them to start or support their family through the job God gives them. We can, if we let ourselves, take such moves personally as if we are being rejected. And if they are our children, or they have a disability, we can think we have to look out for them, feeling that without our watching eyes they will fall into trouble. We can forget they came from God and will return to God, and God’s desire is for them to discover their strength, wisdom, & hope in God alone. To truly love them as God call us to is to lend them to the Lord their whole lives, to say “I will trust you can spread your wings and fly through God’s power”.
This, too, can happen in intimate relationships such as marriage and partnership. So often one partner or spouse can be used to having the education, the good paying job, the connections in the community. They can then either rejoice with or feel threatened by their spouse or partner when they begin to spread wings and soar, depending on if they learn this trust. I’ve seen too many relationships hit the rocks not because things went wrong but because power shifted, and the other partner or spouse began to find their voice, explore the potential. The other partner or spouse was too insecure to come alongside as a support, who rejoiced as they rejoice. Yet I’ve also seen where people find that grace for each other, realizing ultimately that person is from God and will return to God so must discover their God-given potential. When they both learn to rejoice as the other spreads their wings, their partnership or marriage entered a new depth of relationship, with deeper reward.
I am reminded of a story my pastor told me in the youth group where I was baptized. He said relationships are like birds. You can hold that bird too tight. And it will be smothered and die. You can hold it so loosely it flies out of your fingers. But if you hold it right it will be free to thrive, and you will be free to still have it close. I think I’ve learned there is a next step. Sometimes too we must trust the relationship we have with the other, and that God has with them. Like I sometimes did with a little green cheek conure I used to have, a part of loving others as God would have us is trusting that we don’t always have to hold another. If we let that bird flutter in the room, it will come back to rest its shining green wings on our shoulder or on its perch because it know who we are and where home is. So with relationships I’ve found. If we trust the other, trust our relationship with them, and trust God to be faithful to us both, we can free ourselves to rejoice when they spread their wings and begin to soar, knowing they will continue to be a part of our lives and God is more able to hold them, to protect them, even to catch them when they fall then when we can be there.
Learning to trust in this way goes against some of our training and instinct. But it not only frees the others in our lives to soar, but also enables us to take wing.