As we start this three-part series, let me say I mean no disrespect to the men of the Bible. I’m grateful my own “dumb husband” moments aren’t written down for the ages. I’m also thankful God gives us a glimpse into the struggles and failures of men in the Word. We’re given a chance to learn from their mistakes, and to recognize how marriage has held challenges from the beginning.
The book of First Samuel introduces us to Hannah’s husband, Elkanah. Elkanah was a decent, religious man (and brave—did I mention he had two wives?). Hannah was suffering through infertility and it was breaking her heart. To make matters worse, Elkanah’s second wife was able to conceive and bear children. She taunted Hannah by reminding her of this fact all the time.
Despite living in a culture where childless women were disgraced, Hannah was Elkanah’s favorite. He loved her so much, he gave her double portions when passing out the food. Apparently, Hannah wasn’t one to eat her feelings away, because she found extra gifts and affection a poor substitute for the greater blessing of children.
As I read Elkanah’s story, I find the way he deals with his wife’s emotions hits close to home. Here’s where Elkanah (and the rest of us) goes wrong in responding to his wife’s troubles and feelings:
He shut her down:
Most of us are completely thrown when the women in our lives start to cry, get angry, or show any negative emotions. Why can’t they just man-up and stuff their feelings like we do? Elkanah refused to really hear his wife’s pain as she grieved her lack of children. He asked her, “Why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Aren’t I enough?” (I Samuel 1:8) I’m just like Elkanah when my wife starts expressing her internal struggles and I start to panic. I wonder, How can I calm her down so we can move past this as quickly as possible? Just like Elkanah, I say things like, “It’ll be ok.” “Look at the bright side.” Or, “Hey, you’ve always got me.” (Her personal favorite!)
What I really need to do is quiet my own inner warning system, turn on my ears, and just let her feel what she’s feeling. Once she’s expressed what’s on her heart, I can let her know she’s heard. I can empathize that what she’s going through is hard.
Guys, let’s be humble enough to realize we don’t hold the answers to all our wives’ problems. Let’s be sensitive enough to sit with them and their emotions without moving on too quickly. Through prayer, God will give us the great deal of courage and self-control it takes to do this.
It’s Not About Me:
Elkanah’s ego hits a little close to home. He minimized the longings of Hannah’s heart and inflated his ability to meet them at the same time. His question is revealing: “Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” He assumed her relationship with him could stand as her sole source of joy in life.
We tread on God’s toes with this kind of thinking. No matter how strong and intimate our marriage may be, God is to be our wives’ greatest delight. He’s the true source and provider of the desires of their hearts. (Psalm 37:4) Our wives will have hopes, dreams, and goals outside the gates of our marriage. True love offers support and encouragement so our wives can run hard after Jesus and his call on their lives.
Missing in Action:
Where was Elkanah when Hannah was praying and crying out to God for answers at the temple? Where was Elkanah when Hannah endured mocking and abuse from his other wife? He left Hannah alone in her suffering.
This is where we go so wrong in our relationships today. Somewhere we got the idea that marriage was created to gratify our own needs and desires. We want to have the better without the worst, the health without the sickness, and the richer without the poorer. Am I willing to step into my wife’s pain with helpful encouragement and support? Do I stand by silently when our kids disrespect her? If the in-laws take take a dig at her, do I avoid conflict and step away as quickly as possible? Am I available to really listen and sit with my wife in her pain?
Entering into my wife’s challenges can take more fortitude than anything I’ll tackle outside the home. This is especially true when the only fix is to just hold her, pray for her, and listen. Even when I have no solutions, the best thing I can do is stay right by her side to the end.
Word to the Wives: In his heart of hearts, my husband wants to be my hero. My emotional world can be such a foreign place, he doesn’t know how to enter in. The needs and hopes I carry can leave him confused and insecure.
I need to offer my husband the same compassion and understanding I’m looking for. He deserves honest, straightforward communication so I don’t leave him guessing. I need discernment to know when to lean on him and when to look elsewhere for support. Grace should flow between us all the time, keeping blame and bitterness out of our relationship. Before laying heavy expectations on his shoulders, I need to take my needs and problems to God in prayer. Then, I can lovingly invite my husband into the deepest places in my life. (Joanna)