Year after year it was the same – Penninah would taunt Hannah as they went to the tabernacle. Each time, Hannah would be reduced to tears and would not even eat.
“Why are you crying, Hannah?” Elkanah would ask…”Why be downhearted just because you have no children? You have me – isn’t that better than having 10 sons?”
Once after a sacrificial meal at Shiloh, Hannah got up and went to pray. …Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord..”
I don’t know every detail of how these conversations between Hannah and her husband played out, but he doesn’t mention the taunting year after year or acknowledge the unhealthy dynamic in his family. It seems like he makes some assumptions about Hannah’s distress and misses some of the major factors that made it so painful.
It was after one of these meals, where smug Penninah was favored and Hannah was told not to get so upset, that she headed to the temple and poured out her heart to the Lord. She let down her guard and let out her anguish and the High Priest called her drunk. It had to be frustrating, she cries at home and she’s dismissed, she cries at the Sanctuary and she’s accused.
But I think it’s significant that as upset as she was, she lost her appetite, but not her bearings. Hannah knew where she needed to go.
Even though her husband and then the priest himself misunderstood what she was going through, God heard her.
She wasn’t a king or a prophet or a leader in Israel. She wasn’t blind or lame or leprous. She was just a bullied girl who really wanted to be a mom in a hard situation that was easily dismissed by anyone who knew of it. But she could come to her God and He did not dismiss her. He did not make assumptions. He did not explain away her suffering.
My situation is often misunderstood. People see me up and around and decide that means I’m better. They pat my shoulder and tell me they know my pain. They tell me if I look this good, it must not be “all that bad.”
My sister told me I should start telling them how many meds and IV infusions I require every week to be “okay.” And I feel that when you’re nauseous 24/7, “only” 8 more weeks is just not the best descriptor. We’ve found some things that help, and it’s definitely not as bad as other hard situations people have had to face, but this is still pretty stressful, and one of the daily stressful things is how to respond to what other people say.
It’s easy, when you’re going through something hard, to feel dismissed and misunderstood. To feel hurt by words meant to comfort, because they glazed over something that was pretty significant or they abbreviated something that feels very long-term.
I’m becoming more and more convinced that it often falls to the one who is struggling to offer grace to people who misunderstand what they need. To people who handle you roughly when you’re at your most vulnerable. To people who should say, “I’m sorry you’re going through this,” but somehow come up with “at least you’re not dealing with this or that.”
Here is what I take from Hannah:
I don’t need to get other people to understand. Chasing after that is setting myself up to be frustrated and discouraged. The world is never going to orchestrate itself around being sensitive to me, even when I’m facing something really difficult.
So I just need to run to the One who already gets it.
When my situation is misunderstood, when I feel invisible or dismissed, I can remember, like Hannah, that I do not serve a dismissive God. Even if He makes me wait, it’s not because He’s ignoring me. Even if things stay difficult, it’s not because He doesn’t see.
O my people, trust in him at all times.
Pour out your heart to him,
for God is our refuge.
He is the God I can run to with the feelings I don’t know how to put words to, when I’m agonizing over something that doesn’t seem important to anyone else. He is the God who hears every person, regardless of their status; the God who bends down to listen to children and sympathizes with weakness; the God who let Hannah sob at the place of worship.
And unlike Elkanah, God didn’t ask “Isn’t your husband enough for you?” He gave Hannah the son she longed for and He gave her honor to dispel the taunting. God saw Hannah and He answered her plea.
1 Samuel doesn’t open with a person persevering perfectly through distress, but with a girl falling to pieces in the courtyard of the Holy Place because she’s so stressed she can’t eat, and with a God who saw her struggle and gave what she asked for. It is a book that begins with someone crying out “help me,” and God saying “yes.”
I want to grab on to that pattern and remember the type of God He shows himself to be in these stories. Rather than trying to prepare perfectly and endure admirably and suffer impressively, I will just lay down my cards. I can just admit that this is too hard for me and delight in the God who says “yes, I will help you” when I call on Him and “yes, I understand you,” when I cry to Him.
Perhaps doing that is a step toward developing the humility He’s looking for anyway.
And he gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say,
“God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble…
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor”