Tag Archives: 1 Samuel

82: Bullying

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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

It seems right to think about yesterday’s text from Peninnah’s point of view as well, since we might argue that being a bully is just as much a way of suffering in our human condition as being the victim of such behaviour. Bullies are suffering in a way that causes them to inflict pain. More often than not, I wonder if they feel disenfranchised or impotent in some way, so that they desire to gain power or a sense of belonging. Bullies often work in groups, as a gang of cruel girls did to me at school, and are also very ego-driven, building themselves up by bringing others down.

Peninnah feels threatened by Hannah’s piety, and by her husband’s clear preference for his other wife. Perhaps it is hardly surprising that she lashes out at her rival for his affections. Doubtless she is frustrated and feels powerless to change anything about her situation, so she uses the one thing she can lord over Hannah, the fact that she has had children. When we are hurting, and we feel the need to lash out, we use the weapons we have to hand, and the weaknesses that are in plain sight, rarely considering the pain we might inflict.

We also pass on traits from one generation to another, and I believe this fact of life is what the Bible calls curses “from generation to generation.” And we also learn behaviour from our parents and guardians. If we have been abused or bullied at home, whether by adults or siblings, we are far more likely to become bullies ourselves. We’ve learnt that this is the way to get what we want, or to feel empowered. As one of my favourite tv comedies, Blackadder, would have it, the Prince insults the butler, the butler kicks the cat, the cat chases the mouse, and the mouse bites Baldrick.

I remember that as a child when I was going through a phase of having spats with my elder brother, I used to take this out on the boys at school, karate chopping them at every opportunity in the style of Miss Piggy. It made me feel like I had some power in a situation where I didn’t, because my brother was much bigger than I was. Fortunately, I remember one of the boys sticking up for himself and asking me how I would like it, and then showing me how much it hurt! Perhaps if he hadn’t made me stop and think, I might still be being a Muppet.

Adult bullying of course is harder to change, since those opportunities for mind-changing are tougher to bring about, and the behaviour is ingrained. “I’m hurting,” says the ego, “and feeling small, so I’m going to take it out on other people and make myself seem bigger than I am.” Bullies do need to be held accountable. It’s the only thing that will help us, in the end, to see the error of our ways. Truth is our way to freedom. But they also need to be heard. Perhaps expressing themselves in a free and non-judgemental environment where anger and frustration are given space rather than immediately condemned, might be helpful. Of course not everyone wants to give that space, and not every bully would be able to take advantage of it, nor are many people prepared to change. But accountability done with love feels like the way forward. “What is this really about?” and “How are you feeling?” can be powerful breakthrough questions asked from a place of generous vulnerability and grace.

Perhaps if Elkanah’s two wives had sat down and had a real heart to heart, they might have discovered that their common enemy was the patriarchal system they were enduring, and helped one another somehow to bear their various pains. But injustices, like stones dropped in water, send out many ripples, and it is only grace that can truly heal such wounds.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

 

Image used under creative commons as advised by Yahoo image search

81: Bullied

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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

How to talk about the hideous pain of bullying? It is one of the worst things a human being can do to another, because it singles out a specific weakness or area of hurt, which it then needles over and over again until the wound grows and festers and becomes unbearable. When we talk about bullies, we usually speak of children taunting one another in the playground, but whilst it certainly happens there and in increasingly terrible ways, we should not for a minute imagine that it is left behind in the schoolyard.

Some of the worst bullies run workplaces, stand for political office, become teachers, seek out seats of power (however small) and attempt to make certain people’s lives a misery. They are nearly always out to get those of whom they are jealous, or whom they secretly admire. This also happens in the dating game, so that the little boy who pulled plaits when a youngster, will negate and bully women he finds attractive. This, as I know you can imagine, leads to some horrible, unbalanced and abusive relationships.

Bullying, like all abuse, is about power. Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah, knows that her only claim to status is her children, and that it is also Hannah’s one weakness. A careful reading of the text, seeing the word “rival” and how Hannah is so loved by her husband, getting a double portion of sacrifices, and clearly has a close relationship with the Lord (it is not a coincidence that Peninnah’s worst bullying happens whenever Hannah goes to Temple), shows us that there is a nasty jealousy present. Polygamy is such a bad idea (more on that later) and causes deep and dreadful competition. Peninnah buoys herself up and knocks Hannah down, the best way she knows how, by taunting her about the one thing she has that Hannah does not. The bullying is so painful that Hannah can’t even eat.

Power games seem to be less frowned upon in the west than they used to be, at least for adults, but whilst bullying in schools seems to be taken more seriously, it is certainly rife and far more about sexuality and bodies very early on, and this is extremely worrying. Difference is the thing we always pounce on. Any sign of oddness, of wavering, of feminine in the masculine or vice versa, and there is perceived a vulnerability, an uncertainty that can be pounced on with fierce mockery.

Valuing difference, embracing the whole spectrum of humanity, gender, shape, colour, culture, history, intelligence, the way we process the world, is the way forward. Our God is one who clearly loves great ranges of difference. He made us all unique and if we foster and husband that amazing truth, we will be well on the way to talking down the name callers and being an integrated and whole society where everyone is deemed precious.

Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” Isaiah 64:8

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

If you are a victim (of any age) of bullying in the UK, you may find this website helpful: http://www.bullying.co.uk/

 

80: Misunderstood

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Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.” 1 Samuel 13-14 NIV

We’ve all been misunderstood at some point in our lives. Being taken the wrong way, heard wrongly, taken amiss, these are things that happen in every human relationship. If we are married, we’ll more than likely be very experienced at having the person we love most hear something quite different from what we actually thought we said. As writer and speaker Brene Brown often explains, we are always telling ourselves some kind of story in our heads and if what we think we hear feeds into that, we reinforce that often twisted version of the truth. In those kinds of cases, working through our defence mechanisms and being honest with ourselves and God will hopefully help us dig our way to the truth. But what about other kinds of misunderstandings, like poor Hannah here, pouring her very heart out before God and yet being accused of drunkenness?

Somehow being misread by an authority figure, perhaps especially a priest, is a double injury. When we were trying our best to be authentic and the very representative of that authenticity is scathing, that is a deep and difficult wound to bear. Fortunately, in Hannah’s case, it was quickly set right, simply by her pouring out yet more honesty. But in so many situations like these we can clam up, stammer our way out of the building or just burst into tears at the unfairness of it all.

The worst kind of being misunderstood of course is when the other person claims to know it all, or doesn’t take the time and trouble to find out the truth or to listen. Sadly this happens all too often in church, particularly if it is about an issue, such as marriage difficulties or sexuality  where the answers seem to be not only written in stone, but doled out with about as much warmth. Gender divides are one example, where a woman might be trying to express her desire to practice a particular gifting, and yet be told that she is not allowed to because of her sex. “Because the bible says so” or “Because that is what we believe” is not an adequate answer in and of itself, especially where it is given with no compassion or attempt at explanation. “Because it is what we have always done,” is perhaps more honest but also no help. At its best, being misunderstood feels shameful and frustrating. At its worst, it can be dangerous, as any spouse sent back to an abusive partner “because God hates divorce” well knows.

Hannah’s husband, Elkanah, doesn’t understand her either. She weeps because she has no children, and he says, “Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” When we are not allowed or unable to articulate our pain and be heard, we suffer from being misunderstood, and it can eat away at us and our sense of self. The cure is often as simple as being given time and space. Patience and understanding are invaluable gifts, and listening a powerful and much underrated ministry. But Hannah knows of course, that the one person who will truly understand is God, and it is to him that she pours out her soul.

God will not only hear us, listen and understand, but he will know more than we can say and care more than we can imagine.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

 

41: Worrying

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As for your donkeys which were lost three days ago, do not set your mind on them, for they have been found.” 1 Samuel 9:20 (partial) NASB

A man called Kish loses some donkeys. He sends his son Saul and a servant to go and look for them. They search for miles without luck and end up wondering if they should go home in case Kish stops worrying about the donkeys and starts worrying about them. But before they do, they seemingly quite randomly end up first consulting the Prophet Samuel about their journey. Unbeknownst to them, God has told Samuel that this young man is going to be the next King of Israel. The Lord tells him so in quite mighty and prophetic language, as you’d expect. When Samuel sees Saul and speaks to him, you’d think he would be full of that amazing prophecy and curious about the future king and so on.

But Samuel’s first concern is to put Saul’s mind at rest. He tells him that he will be fed, that he will have a place to stay for the night, that he will be told all he needs to know the next day, and that he can stop worrying about the donkeys. Does that blow your mind? It does mine. The man of God understands anxiety and worry. He knows that Saul is full of his task and that it is important to him.

Now, I am a first class worrier. I worry and I fret and I get anxious, I want to fix everything and I have a to do list a mile long in my head, most of which is impossible. Jesus telling me “do not worry” is probably the toughest thing he could ask. Worrying steals so much of my energy and my time, it verges on the ridiculous. Anxiety can actually be a really horrible thing, which is why I’m including it here in the Veil of Tears blog and why I will no doubt come back to it a few times.

Yet here is an Old Testament prophet showing us that God knows about the donkeys. He knows. He understands that they are taking up space in our heads. He wants us to know the score and that they are safe. Samuel doesn’t just say, don’t worry about them, he also says, because they have been found. Worriers need reassurance and facts to calm us down.

This is also reassuring to me because it shows that God cares about the things that distract us, about the things that loom large to us, however insignificant they might seem to others. It also shows us that there are old missions we can let go, that have run their course. I’ve known Christians (including myself) who have become miserable and distraught because of a quest they felt sent on many years ago not seeming to come about or bear fruit. Missing the boat is a feeling that sows guilt and sadness in our lives. But maybe in those cases we are looking at it all wrong. Maybe the Lord has already found those donkeys in our past and we can simply let them go. Maybe they were a way of bringing us to our Samuel.

Saul is a loyal son and he is not going to be able to concentrate on anything Samuel tells him whilst he has this quest on his mind. It shouldn’t really be a surprise to us that the one who made us understands totally how hung up we can get on the to do list, or the current problem, how much it can take over our consciousness. How uncaring we can make God in our minds sometimes! But the Lord loves to find the lost, as so many Bible passages tell us. Doesn’t this show us that he truly has it all in hand, that he can be taking care of it all: the worries, the future, the “chance” meetings, the mission ahead, who will be ruling the kingdom, the number of hairs on our heads and even those pesky donkeys, wandering about who knows where in the wilderness?

 

“All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;” J.R.R. Tolkein

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from morguefile.com