Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Unintentional Peninnahs

Grove City College
We writers left St. Davids Christian Writers’ Conference Sunday to return to our “real lives.” Even the best writers’ conference in the nation can have both a positive and negative effect. On the one hand, it’s the place where you first believe, “I’m a writer.” On the other hand, it’s the place where you may fear, “I’m not a good enough writer.” 

Where better to experience irony than a conference for writers?

The conference bookstore sells books written by more successful writers. The workshop leaders boast long lists of publishing credits. It’s necessary for their credibility, but it can make ordinary conferees feel inadequate.

Peninnah appears in the biblical book of 1 Samuel. She was the other wife of Hannah’s husband, Elkanah. Peninnah had children, while Hannah had none. Elkanah loved Hannah in spite of her barrenness, but had no problem reproducing with Peninnah, although he didn’t love her. 

More irony.

In that era, around 1000 B.C.E., having no babies was worse than attending a writers’ conference with no publications or prospects. Peninnah stuck it to Hannah whenever she could. “Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat.” (1 Samuel 1:6 – 7, NIV) 
Peninnah probably recited the names of her children like top selling titles on Amazon.com.

She intentionally wounded Hannah, and it doesn’t take a psychiatrist to figure out why. However, there are many unintentional Peninnahs out there, just being their sparkly selves, and living their spectacular lives, holding no ill will against us, but we Hannahs still bleed. We fear we’ll never have what they have.

One writer friend, Elle Love, who couldn’t come to conference, wrote this poem while we were away:


I want to be
a light of the world,
but others shine
much brighter.
I am almost
Do I make a difference
in the darkness?
Or will I always be

When I read it, I remembered a similar poem I’d written years earlier. It wasn’t in any folder on my current laptop. Elle prayed and I found a print copy of the poem, packrat that I am.

A taper flickering
Unseen by the noonday sun.
A voice wavering
Unheard by the fanfare.
A lone syllable
Unread by the sonnet.
A crust of bread
Untasted by the feast.
Insignificant to all
But God.

When we feel this way, a pep talk probably won’t help. We heard lots of those at conference. We might need a good cry. And a good pray. Like Hannah. “In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly.” (1 Samuel 1:10)

Hannah’s happy ending came when God answered her prayer for a son. She even wrote a poem about it, found in 1 Samuel 2:1 – 10. In addition to her firstborn, Samuel, Hannah received three more sons and two daughters. 

My beloved, cherished fellow writers, I wish we all could see ourselves as God sees us and believe in the success he has for us, whatever that looks like. Please keep sowing your words and water them with your tears and your prayers.



  1. Thank you for your wise words about Hannah and Peninnah and the reminder that God will bless us in His time. Thank you for sharing my poem with your readers. It's an honor.

  2. Thank YOU for allowing me to share it.

  3. Thank you, twin! The story of Hannah and Peninnah provides the perfect scriptural example for those of us who at times struggle with a bad case of "I-can't-write-worth-a-darn-itis".

  4. I Samuel is one of my favorite books in the Bible, and I love-to-pieces the story of Hannah and how God, in His own time, gave her a son. And not just any son--but the amazing Prophet Samuel. Take that, Peninnah! We never hear that any of Ms. P's children grew up to be anything special. Thanks for this scriptural reminder that it does not yet appear what we shall be. There's hope for all of us who feel inadequate and less-than. I needed this today. Thank you so much, Roberta.

  5. Love, Love, Love this. It totally captures the positive/negative feelings so many of us have at conferences.

    1. Thanks, Sherree. As one of my friends also pointed out, there are so many areas of life in which we can feel barren, not just writing. My family life feels barren right now. I must follow Hannah and keep looking to God for hope.

  6. Yes! I tend to compare my qualifications to those of others. A dear friend reminded me... "God doesn't only call the qualified, but he always qualifies the called." The people I met at the conference this year... published and not yet published... inspired me and impacted my life.