Compassion for Those Who Suffer

Today I would like to ask you to read a passage of Scripture before reading this article. It’s found in First Samuel 1:3-8. 

As you can see, Hannah was having a great struggle in her life. It was due to the fact that she was barren, unable to birth a child. In our modern culture, we need to be careful to not minimize this struggle in Hannah’s life. That’s because in the culture and the time in which she lived, there was deep shame equated with barrenness. The social value of rearing and raising children was very prominent. To not be able to do this, one would be considered to be broken. You would be marginalized by society.

This was often seen as being attributed to some hidden wrong, flaw, or sin in the barren individual. This would make the reality of barrenness an act of divine judgment in the eyes of those around her. It was also seen by some as a type of disease that could be caught. Therefore, in Hannah’s culture and the place where she lived, there was great shame in barrenness. First Samuel 1:3-8 shows us this in full. Hannah’s suffering was great, not to mention the pain which her rival, Peninnah, another wife of her husband Elkanah, inflicted on her. She had already borne children to Elkanah and was happy to rub this fact in Hannah’s face whenever she had the chance.

Due to all this, Hannah’s struggle and suffering in life would have been great. Many would not have been able to comprehend it, if they had not themselves gone through what she was experiencing. Elkanah’s response to her plight tells of this in verse eight. He means well. However, he cannot see and grasp the depth of her pain and why Hannah can’t just snap out of it.

Instead of giving Hannah room to grieve and be sorrowful, Elkanah tries to provide a solution he couldn’t provide. Instead of empathizing, he immediately tries to give a consolation prize. In short, he was saying, “You got me; what else do you want? I don’t even care if you are barren, so why does it matter?”

The problem is, it mattered because it mattered to her. It mattered greatly to her, and as her story continues, it shows that this pep talk from her husband was of no help. If anything, it furthered her despair. The truth of the matter is, we face people every day experiencing similar pains and marginalization which we too cannot begin to understand, as we lack the practical experience of such pains.

May we not be so rash like Elkanah to try to rush to a solution we cannot, nor should not, provide. May we instead learn to empathize and sit with those suffering and allow room for their grief and pain. Allow room for them not to be okay. May we not grow impatient. Instead, may we increase our love and care for them in their sorrow.

God, forgive me. Please help me grow in compassion for those in my life who are struggling. Please help me grow in love for those who suffer. Please help me be a very present help to them in times of trouble, even when I cannot understand the why. Please help me to be more like your son Jesus. Amen.

All in all, know that you do not have to rush to the rescue. You do not have to say magic words. You do not need to offer a solution. You can be present compassionately for those who suffer by simply being present and allowing room for their pain.

Brandon Zoll is pastor of the Church of God of Exeter. He may be reached by calling 559-592-2631. Prays Together is a rotating faith-based commentary and advice column among the pastors, and guest laypeople, of the First Presbyterian Church of Exeter, Church of Christ of Exeter, Nazarene Church of Exeter, Church of God of Exeter, the New Life Assembly of God and Rocky Hill Community Church and Lemon Cove Community Church. 

This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.

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