“Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. And Elkenah, her husband, said to her, ‘Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” -1 Samuel 1:7b-8
We’ve all walked through darkness and we’ve all walked with others in the midst of darkness. Since we have all been in the place of those who have struggled with discouragement and even depression, why are so few people effective in caring for others in the midst of discouragement?
In 1 Samuel 1 we meet a women whose heart is broken. As was common in the ancient world, she placed her hope and value in her children, but she was childless. Enter her well-meaning, but clumsy husband. His care starts off in good form: “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad.” Excellent! But then Elkenah’s well-intentioned encouragement goes off the rails, “Am I not more to you than ten sons?” Face meet palm.
Hannah finds herself in the temple at Shilloh, and is pouring out her heart in prayer to God, weeping “bitterly” as she prays silently. Enter Eli, the clueless priest. He approaches this weeping woman and accuses her of being drunk. Facepalm.
Let’s not be Elkenah and Eli when we are with those who are discouraged. Here are three ways we can mess up care and two ways to care well.
Here is how to care cluelessly:
- Over-talk: Elkenah peppered Hannah with questions. Eli spoke too quickly.
- Make it about you: Elkenah made Hannah’s discouragement over not having a son about her relationship with him.
- Presume: Eli may well have had other drunk worshipers at his temple. His own sons probably got drunk in the temple frequently. But don’t presume that what you have observed before is going on with the person in front of you. Don’t write your story over theirs.
Here is how to care well:
- Embrace silence: one of the most effective methods of care is to be present silently with someone who is suffering. If Elkenah or Eli would have put their hand on Hannah’s shoulder and silently prayed with her, they would have been much better caretakers.
- Make it about them: Elkenah’s question “why is your heart sad?” is a good one. Probe. Allow space. And listen.
- Pray: Eli does a 180 when he realizes he has misjudged Hannah and he prays encouragement over Hannah, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.”