Identifying with Hannah's Life
Many days, I feel so dry and dead spiritually, unable to hear Him and have the sweet communion with Him that I read about or that some have. He does speak to me though. I hear Him occasionally in fits and starts. I long to hear Him clearly all the time. It is the single-most longing of my soul and has been for many years.
And yet, I feel I do such a poor job truly seeking Him. I despair sometimes, giving up on trying, because I so seldom find anything. I know I don't do rightly in this. I don't do rightly in many things, and many days, am so sad at my own inability to do the simplest things that I know He wants.
Struggles Since January to Connect with Him
The delirium I had while dehydrated related to Him, as He is the most important Person in my life. And, afraid of that event, I for many months, blocked Him out completely, unconsciously burying His voice, like cotton was stuck in my ears. If I could be so ruined and led astray, I reasoned, I was afraid to try to listen for Him again, even though rationally, I knew that wasn't the right response. So many fears and doubts assailed me that really hurt. I fell into darkness and lack of faith, groping around, as I used to live before I met Esther and knew no other kind of life.
These Struggles Are a Familiar Rut
Four years ago, I started to escape this cycle, learning slowly what prayer and fellowship meant. I progressed farther than I thought possible and my depression gave way to joy and happiness on a regular basis. But since January, I feel back at square one, trying again, to learn what that means, struggling with the old doubts, fears and depression I had before.
Have you ever felt, like Hannah, that despite all one's efforts and prayers, God didn't seem to pay attention? That's how I often feel and have felt. And yet, there are brief bursts of sunshine, when He does speak and I hear Him. It brings me such joy. Last night was one of those times. It gave me hope again that He hasn't forgotten me.
A Portrait of Every Day Life
There is also a quiet sadness that clings to me, reasserting itself like patchy clouds that drop variegated shadows, drifting over my spirit, as I long for Him, His communion and voice, without having any real hope of finding Him, hurt and uncomprehending why He continues to leave me in this state, wondering if He has forgotten me.
In spite of how I feel sometimes, I do *know* that He hasn't left me, however much my feelings and doubts want me to think so. I don't understand it, but I know He loves me. I've seen too much, I've heard too much, I've read too much to doubt it, in the deepest parts of my soul. I know He transforms people. I've seen it. I know He loves us. And perhaps one day, He will show me how to find Him consistently.
25 For I know that my Redeemer lives,
And He shall stand at last on the earth;
26 And after my skin is destroyed, this I know,
That in my flesh I shall see God,
27 Whom I shall see for myself,
And my eyes shall behold, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!
Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls--
18 Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
19 The Lord God is my strength;
He will make my feet like deer’s feet,
And He will make me walk on my high hills.
This Passage Spoke to Me: Hannah's Life Gives Me Hope
I've underlined or italicized some of the parts that particularly stood out to me. I hope that you will enjoy it too. In many ways, I feel like Hannah in her early years, undeniably transformed, but assailed by her old fears and doubts.
Hannah Hurnard, A Brief Autobiography
Parents Full of Faith
I was brought up in an evangelical home and environment where religious beliefs were considered far and away the most important things in the world. In comparison with them nothing else really mattered, and worldliness and anything that tended to make the spiritual life and growth of the soul seem unimportant were inexorably excluded. Spiritual things and religious doctrines were obviously of such vital value to my parents that I could not fail to be impressed with a deep sense of their importance.
One could not live in my home and be carelessly indifferent to the possibility of the existence of a spiritual world. I could not fail to realize that “to love the Lord their God with all their heart and their soul and their strength” was the steady aim of my parents’ life, that all their joy and satisfaction was found in seeking to serve Him, and that they held everything they possessed as a trust from Him. My father’s whole life seemed to be summed up in the words “It is required in stewards that a man be found faithful.” As for my mother, through all the years of her ill-health, suffering, and almost constant pain, she was so joyful a lover of the Lord Jesus that when she spoke His name her very voice changed and her face became lighted as though an inner lamp shone through the earthly vessel. “His name is as ointment pour forth, therefore do we love Him,” is the verse which I most closely associate with her memory.
As a child of eleven, I did, as I hoped and believed, become “converted” by offering myself to the unseen Savior whose existence I did not at that time doubt.
But the outward expression of spiritual worship in which I was brought up seemed to me, from my very earliest years, dreary and depressing, and though, as a child, I felt that religion must certainly be the most important thing in the world, I simply could not find any reality or satisfaction in it. I dread the type of services we were obliged to attend, and Sunday was a nightmare hanging over me the whole week.
I prayed, but there was no answer. I went to gospel services, and was unutterably bored and depressed. I repented, but I couldn’t stop doing wrong things. I read the Bible and found it the dullest and most lifeless book in the world. It conveyed absolutely nothing to my longing soul, although it was held up as the infallible World of God, the one channel through which He chose to reveal Himself. Nothing helped. The saving power never came. The means of grace didn’t work. I simply couldn’t believe.
By the time I had reached the middle teens I could no longer believe in the existence of God, for there seemed absolutely no way of getting in touch with Him.
Struggles Personally, Stammering
I was a miserable, morbid, self-centered person who never felt love for anyone, shut up to my own torment. Til I was nineteen I never remembered feeling happy, though of course I sometimes stopped feeling unhappy. I had two hateful and tormenting handicaps. One, a horrible stammer, which whenever I tried to speak, kept me mouthing in a desperate effort to get the words out. Until I was nineteen, I never went into a shop alone, nor onto a bus or train or anywhere where I would be obliged to speak. As a child, when we were playing in the garden alone and I was natural and unselfconscious, I could often say whole sentences, but if spoken to or asked a question, the ghastly struggles began at once.
I simply hated people, the unfeeling ones, and even the kind ones who looked away and were horribly sorry and embarrassed. At school I suffered torments and appeared a perfect fool, always saying I didn’t know the answer to questions because I couldn’t get the answers out.
Struggles Personally, Fears
The other handicap was, in some ways, even worse than the stammer. I was obsessed by tormenting fears, some quite ordinary ones such as many other people share, but also many abnormal ones, at least perhaps I experienced them to an abnormal degree and more or less continuously. I felt terror of the dark, terror of heights, a maddening terror of being shut in anywhere, terror of crowds, of being ill and off fainting and losing consciousness, and above all, a daily and nightly experienced horror of death.
The older I grew the more I felt the humiliation and hurt of my stammer. Morning after morning I awoke feeling that I simply could not face another day. I longed for the courage to commit suicide. Thus I grew more and more morbid and tormented and shut up to myself, unable to think of anything but my own unspeakable wretchedness.
All the time, though I would have given anything to believe that there was a God who could help even men, He seemed to take no notice, to pay no attention to my despairing prayers and to become more and more unreal and inaccessible.
The Convention and Transformation
Why do I emphasize all this? Because in one half hour, when I was nineteen years of age, my whole life was changed, and this hateful, abnormal husk splint, and fell off, and left me, not with a new physical make-up or another mental outfit but with an absolutely transformed outlook.
This is how the amazing transformation took place. IN 1924, my father, the only person on earth for whom I felt real affection, because he was my only refuge, and being a stammerer himself could understand by agony, told me that he wanted to take me to the convention at Keswick. I was horrified at the very thought of being obliged to go to the religious meetings all day long, shut up with a crowd of people in a tent, and at first I refused. But finally we made a bargain together. I would go with him to the convention and would attend one meeting each morning and one meeting each evening, and the rest of the day I was to be free to wander about on the hills alone.
So I went through the whole week of convention, attending two meetings a day, and it seemed that absolutely nothing spoke to me. God was as unreal at the end as at the beginning.
On Friday evening the convention ended, but on Saturday morning the great missionary meeting was held. Twelve men and women got up, one after another, and with radiant faces told us of God’s transforming power which they themselves had actually seen operating in countless heathen lives.
I cannot remember a word any of them said. But what no text or passage from the Bible and no earnest speaker at the convention had been able to do, those twelve missionary men and women accomplished. It is, of course, truer to say, as I now realize, that they finished the work the rest of the convention had begun. They put the final touch. For as I sat there in utter wretchedness and looked at their radiant faces, and heard the certainty in their voices, my heart said despairingly, “It must be true. There must be a God after all who is able to save and transform even the most wretched and tormented; able and willing, apparently, to save everybody but me. Why can’t I find Him?”
When the twelve missionaries had finished, the chairman rose to hit feet and asked if there were any young men and women in that great audience who had heard God calling them to the mission field. If they had responded in their hearts, would they stand up? There was a sound of rustling all over the great tent, as scores, perhaps hundreds, of young people rose to their feet. Then the chairman asked if there were any parents there who were ready to give their children to the mission field if God called them. My father rose in his place beside me, and stood with the hundreds of other parents.
Crying out to God
That was the last straw. I struggled to my feet and hurried out of the tent. Getting on my bicycle, I tore back to our lodging house outside the town, rushed into my little room, and locking the door fell on my knees beside the bed. And at least in an extremity of despair and misery of heart I cried out aloud, “O God, in there is a God anywhere, you must make yourself read to me. If you exist and are really what these people describe you to be, you can’t leave me like this.”
I seized my Bible and held it closed in my hands, and cried again, “O God, if there is a God, your followers say that you speak to them through the Bible. If you are real, speak to me through this book too.”
I flapped the Bible open and looked at it. I had opened at a chapter in 1 Kings.
SO I began to read, and at the very first words on which my eyes lighted I felt a strange mental shock. For I had opened at 1 Kings 18 where Elijah challenged the Israelites to believe in the one true God, and declared that He would prove that He existed. And the verse where I began to read said, “How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow Him.”
The thought came to me vividly and clearly, in a dreadful flash of mental enlightenment, “What this unknown God is going to demand before He makes Himself real is that I yield to Him my stammering tongue, and agree to be His witness and messenger.”
All the time then this was why He had never made Himself real. He was waiting until I would agree to give Him my stammering tongue and tell Him that He could use it in any way that He chose.
How He managed it I still cannot understand, but at last there came a moment when I cried out again, “Of God, if there is a God, if you will make yourself real to me, I will yield my stammering mouth.”
I went into that room at 1:00 pm on July 26, 1924, and I came out of it at 1:30 pm after that half hour of agony, completely transformed. Life was utterly different and radiant from that hour.
My fearful nature was still there. My stammer was still there. My dread of people was still there; and so was my complete ignorance of how to begin thinking about others and considering their interests. I was still the old Hannah, but in some miraculous and mysterious way I had been lifted into a completely new mental and spiritual environment, out of the borderland of outer darkness, into the light and glory of heaven.
The Early Years
Two and a half months passed, and in the autumn the time came for me to go to Ridgelands Bible College. I was still stammering, but not so badly as before, and I had even managed, after a great struggle, to pray very briefly in public.
I decided that I must go alone on the train and on the underground, though I had never done such a thing before, even though I was then nearly twenty years of age.
Obedience was always tested to the hilt. It never became easy, and the inner suggestion invariably presented itself, that one day the power would fail and He would let me down. I learned that I must never pay any attention to these fears and doubts.
On one way I lived a double existence in those early years, for I was constantly attacked by the old fears and misgivings and wretched physical feelings, and nearly every day there were agonizing inner struggles before any act of obedience to some new call of His. And yet, on the other hand, every obedience was followed by a flood of amazing joy impossible to describe.
Thus I gradually came to realize that these two handicaps which had so tormented me were, in reality, two special love gifts from the Lord. They were the two sharp nails which nailed me to Him, so that I could never want or dare to go on my own again.
Serving Him on Mission
When I had finished my two years at Ridgelands Bible College I joined The Friends Evangelistic Band for further training in work that would prepare me for the mission field. The Band was an interdenominational faith mission doing evangelistic work in the villages of England and Ireland.
The motto of the Band at that time was “Ready for Anything.” Ready for anything the Lord asked us to attempt and ready to go anywhere He sent us. I was twenty-one when I joined them, and I rather embarrassed and shocked my relatives by traveling about the country in a caravan, holding open air meetings and missions in village after village.
After I had been working in the Evangelistic Band for four years, I was sent over to Ireland again to do deputation work, traveling over the country telling about the needs of the unevangelized villages of England and Ireland. One Saturday afternoon I was invited to go with a party of factory and shop girls on an outing to Ireland’s Eye, one of the beauty spokes near Dublin. After a time I wandered away alone and climbed to the heist rocky peak.
God’s Call to Israel
I had no idea that God was going to speak to me in a special way, or that I was to receive a clear call which once again would revolutionize my whole way of life. I still felt that eventually the Lord wanted me to become a missionary, but I had no idea where that would be.
Up there on Ireland’s Eye, I had no special subject in mind, and began to read just where the Bible opened, which happened to by the night chapter of Daniel. As I slowly read through this wonderful prayer, pondering on t verse by verse, an unexpected and starling thing happened. A thought came into my mind, as though naturally following the train of previous thoughts, but with a clarity and significance which seemed a personal challenge.
“Hannah, would you be willing to identify yourself with the Jewish people in the same way, if I asked you to?” I found my thoughts answering Him in great distress.
“But, Lord, I’m sorry to say I don’t like the Jews a bit. They are the last people in the world I feel interested in trying to help. How could I be on any use as a missionary to the Jews if I don’t like them?”
“If you will yield to me wholly and agree to go, I will make you able to love them and identify yourself with them. It all depends upon your will.”
I scrambled to my feet and knelt down on the rock which had become an altar, for this was a definite offering of myself, an act of deep worship and glad surrender. It concluded a conversation and sealed my readiness to obey. I knelt then on the rocks and said, “Here I am, Lord. I will go as a missionary to thy people Israel.”
The Call Tested
When I came down from the rocky peak of Ireland’s Eye, and began to tell my friends that God had called me to go to Palestine as a missionary, how little, how absurdly little, there was to show for it. The friend with whom I was staying asked how I knew I had a call and how it came to me.
When I told the leader of the Band I felt God was now calling me to the mission field, namely, to Palestine, he and others with him were at first very doubtful.
It was harder still when, after more prayer for guidance, I wrote to the secretary of the only interdenominational mission that I knew which was working in Palestine, and offered my services. Among the questions sent to me to answer was, naturally enough, one about special training and qualifications, and another asking why I felt called to the Jewish work in Palestine, and there was nothing that I could explain except a “still small voice” speaking through my thoughts at Ireland’s Eye, saying, “Will you go and identify yourself with my people Israel?”
I answered the questions to the best of my ability and in due course a letter came back saying they had noted that I had no special qualifications, as a trained nurse or teacher or secretary, all of which they were needing, but there was, at present, no opening for a lady evangelist. Among the Jews, I was told, women were not generally considered worth listening to if they tried to preach or teach men.
Every step of the way out of the mission field was tested. The doctor, as well as most of my friends, did not think that my health or nervous temperament fitted me to work abroad, and I could not but agree with them.
Besides that, I knew that as I had no practical training I could not expect a missionary society to employ me as a salaried missionary if they were not needing an evangelistic worker. But in the end it was agreed that I should go to Haifa on trial, paying my own expenses and undertaking to assist in any way in which I proved capable, being ready to act as a stopgap wherever required, until it would be seen what work the Lord really wanted me to do, or would open for me.
Obedience in spite of Hardship
I crept meekly, and oh so thankfully, into Palestine on January 21, 1932.
How truly and joyfully I can testify as I look back over my path of life, “Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it.”
Amen, Lord. Yes, ever since that radiant day when I knelt beside my bed at Keswich and though didst take me to be thing own, they grace has been sufficient for me, and though hast enabled poor Miss Much-Afraid to keep following. No giant has been allowed to turn her back, no evil to come nigh her dwelling.