Helping Your Loved Ones to Grieve
Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and because the Lord had closed her womb.
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.
Her husband Elkanah would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” 1 Samuel 1:4-8
Normally when we read this scripture in church, we focus on Hannah. We talk about her grief, her vow, her sacrifice, her trust. But in the last few days, I’ve been relating to Elkanah. He started with his heart in the right place. He saw his beloved wife in pain and wanted to ease her suffering. He offered her special gifts and kind words to make up for her loss. Finally, he becomes frustrated that his love and attention doesn’t stop her tears.
God forgive me, I’ve done the exact same thing. When ministry gets hard and life shows its cruel side, somehow I think that if I become the perfect wife and mother, my love will shield my family from all hurts. If only it were that simple. First of all, my love is just like me, imperfect. Secondly, I can’t heal anyone’s wounds. Only Christ can do that. I can’t fix anything. All I can do is not contribute to the problem.
But seeing my loved ones hurt makes me feel so helpless. I try to help them by doubling down on my comforting ways. When that doesn’t work, I take the grief personally. I wonder, “Isn’t my love enough to get you through this? Am I not loving you enough?” I feel so helpless, then I feel like a powerless victim. But then I become angry because anger feels like an easier to control emotion than powerlessness.
But I can’t heal my loved ones, and I can’t expect my “double portions” to heal them. Hurting isn’t a math equation where a negative plus an equal amount of positive gets you back to a base line. My devotion to others, no matter how sincere or strong, may offer a soft place to land, but it won’t assuage the grief. The hard truth is that all I can do is encourage them to call out to Jesus because I can’t rescue them. Only Jesus can take away the pain.
The waiting stretches my own faith too. I have to trust that Jesus is willing and able to comfort them in ways I can’t. This healing is never immediate, so I have to wait with my own hope and expectations. I have to rest in faith alone as God gives me patience to simply sit with the grieving.
I don’t know if Elkanah finally encouraged Hannah to seek the Lord and make her vow or if this was just her final act of desperation. I like to think that Elkanah finally realized that Hannah’s source of healing could only come from God. Maybe he finally put down his pride and realized that only God could heal the woman he loved. Then maybe he was the one who encouraged her to go into the the temple and simply let God have it all: her frustration, her pain, her obedience.
I don’t know if that’s how it happened. What I do know is that the Lord’s comfort relieved her pain. And Elkanah got to see his wife made whole.
Remember, love God, serve others and take care of yourself.