Tag Archives: listening

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

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

 

51: Ignored

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For they have not listened to my words,” declares the LORD, “words that I sent to them again and again by my servants the prophets. And you exiles have not listened either,” declares the LORD.” Jeremiah 29:19 NIV

Believe me that when you start out to be a writer, you foolishly imagine that people will read your work. It seems simple enough: you write words, other people read them. But the world is so market driven and hurried now that without the right contacts or advertising, you are unlikely to find many people with the time or inclination to pay your writing any attention, however much you may believe you are the next Charlotte Bronte or Steven King. Thank you for being one of those who does take the trouble to read.

Fortunately for everyone else, ignoring my blogs, books and articles doesn’t have the same consequences as ignoring God’s words. This verse is an explanation of why awful things are going to befall the people of Israel. Not listening to God is very hazardous to your health. It is also foolish, for who else can tell you all you need to know? In those days, God spoke mainly through his prophets, and though the Lord still does this today we have the outpouring of the Holy Spirit of course available to all believers, and so as well as the Bible to speak his words, we have an intimate and astounding relationship with the Lord on offer. Within that treasure we can hear and receive all manner of amazing encouragement, direction and blessing, especially if we take the time and trouble to learn how to lean into the Lord and tune into his wavelength.

As a mystic before I am anything else, it is the listening that defines the rest of my life, including how I live out my faith. Loving the Lord gets easier and easier the more time you spend with him, and hearing his voice likewise. Like the sheep that come to know the voice of their shepherd, time in the pasture is our best and richest spiritual seam. We come to know the images he uses, the things he certainly would NOT say, and we gradually become familiar with the calm delight of experiencing the gentleness of a bubbling brook that laughs and sings softly underneath the hubbub of the world’s noise. Who would want to miss out on that?

 

Words and artwork © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt