Let’s talk about Sundays. Sundays are not my favorite days. In fact, at different stages of life and church growth, there were many times when I would dread Sunday’s arrival.
I know, I am a pastor’s wife- have always wanted to be one- and this should always be the highlight of my week, right? Other pastor’s wives would be posting about their Sunday mornings and how beyond excited they were, and meanwhile I’d be sitting in my car with my very-necessary Starbucks in one hand and my phone in the other googling “How to make it through Sunday as a Pastor’s Wife.” Think I’m kidding? Check my search history.
And while I cringe a little with Baptist guilt for saying that, I know that I am not the first woman to wake up without jubilation on religious holy days. Sometimes there are difficult circumstances on these days that can really make it really hard to enjoy the beauty of worship and blessing of service. These things strive against us, attempting to direct our hearts to worry rather than worship.
And lest you think this is a new struggle, join me as we take a look back into history and to the life of a young woman named Hannah.
The holy days in Scripture were a time when God’s people would come together to worship Him as a nation. These days were meant to be a time of great rejoicing, and would seemingly be so. Families would often travel many miles to Jerusalem for the celebration. Songs were song as they journey up to the holy city. (I still have yet to understand how they were able to sing those “songs of ascent” as they walked uphill to the city of David. I can only assume that they were a lot more fit than our modern-day church choirs!)
Good friends enjoyed long over-due reunions. Kids played together while tired moms got to enjoy visiting with family- makes me think of modern Christmas gatherings. Then there’s the spiritual aspect of enjoying the moments of devotion to God, giving to Him, and the blessing of receiving something special in return, which made this a joyful time.
We read about this in I Samuel 1:4-5, “And when the time was that Elkanah offered, he gave to Peninnah his wife, and to all her sons and her daughters, portions: But unto Hannah he gave a worthy portion; for he loved Hannah: but the LORD had shut up her womb.” You can see the extra blessing Hannah was given during this time. There are lots of different explanations regarding this. My favorite comes from Gil’s Exposition of the Entire Bible
“…a part or portion of meat that had two faces or appearances; that he gave her one of the pieces, one part of which was very fat, and the other had no fat on it, so that she might choose what she liked best:”
Don’t you love that last thought? The priest gives back a portion of the sacrifice to the family. How true that it is impossible to give to God and not receive a blessing back! Hannah’s husband comes back to his family which includes Hannah, another wife named Peninnah, and from my envisioning of “Peninnah parenting” some rowdy and slightly-too-entitled kids, and he boldly takes the best portions of meat with two different qualities and more than she was obliged to have, and presents it to Hannah in unmasked favortism.
That is so what my day of corporate worship should be. A day of rejoicing, a day of encouragement, and a day where my beloved husband serves a choice portion of the Word for me to savor, as my Father in Heaven returns my offering of service back to me in savory blessings.
So how does it get so off track? Why was I sitting in my car- wishing it were Monday. Back we go to the reality of Hannah- and probably a few other Israelite ladies with these and other Passover joy-blockers.
“And her adversary also provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because the LORD had shut up her womb. And as he did so year by year, when she went up to the house of the LORD, so she provoked her; therefore she wept, and did not eat. Then said Elkanah her husband to her, Hannah, why weepest thou? and why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved? am not I better to thee than ten sons?”
Wow. There’s so much to dig into here, but I’m just gonna’ take the top soil off with you. ☺ That other woman did not make it easy for Hannah to enjoy this sacred experience. Notice I did not say that she made it impossible, just not easy, “for nothing is impossible with God.”
I can only imagine Hannah as an introvert, maybe I’ll be shocked one day on the streets of gold when Hannah is rocking the social calendar of eternity, but I just can’t help but see her a bit on the shy, quiet side. So this intense time of family togetherness was probably not easy to begin with. Then there was the other thing….keeping in mind that during this time pregnancy was viewed as a blessing from God and often highly equated with a woman’s worth in society, can you just go with me a moment back to 101 East Moses Street in the Old City where Elkanah’s extended family resides? Picture it with me…
Samson themed sleeping bags are strewn across the floor, and outside the window little cousins are playing Noah and trying to corral some unruly goats into a makeshift ark made of scrap wood. Further into the large stone room, the air is busy with generations of women’s noisy chatter and the smells of warming herbs and fresh matzah being made. One woman, tall and slender with dark auburn hair fastened neatly and tightly, if not a bit sternly, to the nape of her neck is busy with a group of women weaving together.
“I really don’t know how to help her.” Peninnah says bluntly. “I’ve told her just to confess her sins so that Adonai can open her womb.”
The younger teenagers in the sewing circle’s eyes grow wide with interest and education of the situation. They take note, so that they themselves may not end up in such sorrowful state one day, and the white heads in the group nod in agreement.
“After all, my little Joram would love another brother to play with.” she says, while absentmindedly patting the thick curls of the chubby faced boy at her feet. “His brothers are far too old to take an interest in him, and his sisters are always busy helping me. It’s just not right! Why live in disobedience? Has she no fear of the Holy One? And it is certainly not fair to our dear husband. Such shame she brings upon us.” Peninnah sighs and goes back to her work with a contented smile.
As we shift our gaze to a far window, we see a lonely young woman with strands of brown, wavy hair creeping out from under the folds of blue material covering her head. Of course she hears the words of her husband’s other wife. She was meant to. And even if she hadn’t, the scornful and sometimes pitiful looks she receives from all the other women from that blessed sewing circle are as clear as the accusing words Peninnah speaks about her.
In fact, Peninnah loves to talk about Hannah’s pain. She often loudly reminisces of the joys of pregnancy, the proud moments of being a mother, and more importantly the peace of being right with God. Hannah dreads the thought of another few days here where Peninnah always finds a more than willing audience for her cruelty. “Just a few more days, and we can go home.” Hannah thinks to herself.
Have you been there? Someone makes life difficult? Maybe there’s an adversary in your way. Sometimes there’s that special person who decided that making the lives and ministries of others more difficult should be embraced as their personal calling.1 Even if Peninnah would’ve been gracious, Hannah’s circumstances still would’ve made this time more difficult for her. Your difficult circumstances may not be the ability have children, but actually having children! Maybe like me, you agree with the saying “Whoever wrote the song ‘Easy like Sunday Morning’ never took their kids to church!”
I remember those early years. Our three children were all about two and a half years apart. Those years were busy. I remember so often feeling disconnected from the ministry even when I was still printing bulletins at home, teaching kids every service, and more. There’s something about the busyness of early childhood parenting that just can make you feel isolated even when you are in the midst of everything. My husband was busy on Sunday mornings and has always left early. So three kids under the age of five were my full responsibility to get up, get fed, and loaded in car seats with packed diaper bags, and to the church and distributed to their assigned locations. Oh and yeah, let me try to get myself in some half-way fit appearance, too! I know some of you out there have tears welling up in your red, sleep-deprived eyes because you are there right now. Girl, let me just tell you that I am praying for you. No. I mean it. I am praying right now for each of you who are in the midst of baby-ness and single parenting it on Sunday who will be reading this! I know this is a ministry that is hard to feel appreciated for sometimes. It’s one of those weird ways that we serve our husbands and God- all while trying to teach our children that church is wonderful and we love to go. Meanwhile, we are just begging for grace, that we can find the toddler’s other shoe, keep the lid on the sippy cup, and praying that we can just get the baby to church before one more diaper explosion. It’s a season of life, but one that can provide difficult circumstances for Sundays.
Anxiety can be another joy-stealer on Sundays. Many of us are introverts, so there’s that; us plus lots of people equals shortness of breath. But I’ve discovered that even the extroverts get used up on Sundays. Three of the spunkiest PW’s I know each mentioned to me separately one month how they run completely out of people energy on Sundays. Perhaps it is those heavy expectations that others have for you as a pastor’s wife or worse yet, the silly expectations that you place upon yourself. Asking God to grow us in an area is encouraging; trying to be something that we are not, though, is simply exhausting.
Whether you are dealing with a critical person, chronic pain, a childless predicament, a contrary partner who won’t attend with you, church filled with problems, or even children pooping at inconvenient times, it doesn’t matter what it is, we all have something in our way. And regardless of what the difficult circumstances may be in your Sunday morning lineup, it is very likely that it is difficult for your husband to see, or even to understand as you sit there trying to explain it through desperate sobs. This aspect of Hannah’s dilemma not only amuses me but fantastically comforts me at the same time.
Throughout Scripture, I have some favorite one-liners: statements by people that I’d love to act out on stage. Right up there with Moses’ wife Zipporah’s classic “Thou art a bloody husband to me!” as she flings the scraps of mutilated skin on the floor in front of him. (“Oh Lord, please let me play her in this scene one day!”), I would love to play the bewildered response to this one! Elkanah looks at his wife disturbed and befuddled by her intense sorrow and proclaims this pearl of ageless, husbandic cluelessness: “Am I not better to thee than ten sons?” Ha Ha. Seriously, just sit back and have a good chuckle right now. “What’s the problem? You’ve got me, Babe! What more could you need?” I’m smiling so broadly right now that I can barely type for the sheer hilarity of this statement.
Here’s the truth behind my smile, though. He doesn’t get it. Many times it’s not just that he won’t, it’s that he can’t. Ladies, what we feel: the personal insecurities we carry strapped to us like an ugly handbag, the thing that means so much to us but is lacking in our lives, the painful persecutions we may be facing each week, the circumstances that make Sundays hard days- he may just not get it. Elkanah didn’t. At least not as deeply and continually as Hannah felt and battled it. He just could not go there with her. And if your husband can’t see it, feel it, grasp it, and go there with you, then count yourself blessed. Blessed because, like Hannah, you’re going to be forced to go to the One who can actually change your horrible holy day to a joyful weekly occasion. Rather than be satisfied with a husband’s comfort that can only be surface level at best, we can find true help from the One who is help personified.
When I discovered that my dread of church day and lack of joy in coming together with other believers was one that not only baffled my husband, but at times even frustrated or discouraged him, then I became even more desperate. And often times of deepest desperation can lead us to the sweetest places of consecration.
Hannah had repeated these events year after year, perhaps trying different things. I’ve no doubt that if she had had a Pinterest account, it would have contained a board for “Passover tips for the Barren.” Well meaning people I’m sure had given her sure-fire ways to solve her problem. But in the end, there was no change. There was no lasting comfort. No joy.
“And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the LORD, and wept sore.” (v. 10)
Are you there, my friend? Are you exhausted and just so tired of sorrow living where joy should abide in your heart. Hannah was finally desperate enough that she goes to the One who could bring about the change she needed.
“And she vowed a vow, and said, O LORD of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the LORD all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head.” (v. 11)
Let’s just take a moment and look at how our sister here prays.
1. She claims her place as His servant. In this one short verse, she uses the word “handmaid” three times. When I go to God in prayer, I often go as His daughter. That aspect of our relationship is the one that is the most familiar in my life. However, when I go to Him in prayer for this specific need, when anxiety rears it’s frightening head in my life before church events, I go to Him as His servant.
I claim the truth that I am weak and have nothing to offer. I am just the servant here to do the Master’s will. It is up to the Master to provide what is needed to get the task done. The servant digs the trench with the shovel and pick provided by the master. That is my stance and should be yours as well. “I am here to do your work. Please give me what I need to accomplish what is ahead of me.“
2. She prays specifically. Hannah asks for a boy. She asks for what the nation needs at that time. Don’t just pray for your nerves. Pray for the things touching those nerves. On my prayer list under the “me” section, I have specific needs under being a mother, different needs under being a wife, and have a section for things within me that I need God to grow as a pastor’s wife. They are wildly specific. “Help me to be at least 15 minutes early to church, help me to remember names, help me to remember the needs, help me to see the chapters before in a person’s life (more on this later), and more.” Get specific. God loves specific prayers because when a specific request is answered, it is impossible for us to see it and not realize it came directly from His hand.
3. She consecrates what she is asking for from Him to go back to Him. She has claimed who she is, what she needs, but most important is the why that she now declares: “Give me a son, and he will be for You. He will be dedicated to Your purposes and Your glory.”
How often do we ask God for the circumstances to change because we are uncomfortable? “Please help me because I don’t like this. It’s really hard. Please make things change, God.” Now, I am a big believer and grateful recipient of the personal nature of our God. I love that He cares for our feelings and understands our hurts. But a big component in my joy-lessness on Sundays was my focus on myself and my feelings. When instead I began to say, “God, I have nothing today. I don’t have energy, it’s hard to even smile right now. But, God, this day is Yours. It’s for You. I’m giving it back to you. What energy I have is Yours. Please direct me to the people who need a smile, hug, or good word. Give me Your words. Remind me of names and needs of your people. I give you this Sunday.” That was a game changer!
As I have begun to change my Sunday prayer walking into church- yes, literally, this is often my parking lot prayer whispered to the rhythm of my heels clicking against the asphalt- from comfort to consecration, my entire Sunday has changed.
Today, as I write this portion of the chapter, it is indeed Sunday. I am currently in the midst of what Dr. Dobson calls the “winter of my month” as a woman, which means I am tired and hormonal. My hair is in a dry frizz, and my makeup is working hard to cover a few blemishes. I did not get to church early today as I had hoped, but I had a great Sunday morning. It doesn’t make sense considering all of those factors. I remembered names. I had the words to speak to people just as I needed them. I was calm. I was happy. It’s been a good morning. What changed?
I prayed a Hannah prayer, and God has taken my barren Sunday to a blessed one. I do this every week now- have been for a while. Honestly, I am still not to the point to where “I just can’t wait ‘til Sunday!” But there is no dread on Sunday mornings now. I know things now that I didn’t know before. Sitting here musing over this, I would not be surprised at all if there will come a day where I am so eager for Sundays that I have to write a post about learning not to dread Mondays because that means the next Sunday is a whole week away! Our God is in the business of changing our perspectives that completely.
What I love most about the story of Hannah is how her faith changed her emotional state. Check out verse eighteen. After “pouring out her heart soul” to her Master and her brief encounter with a skeptical preacher, she goes and she goes away different. Her circumstances have not yet changed, but her faith has. “So the woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad.”
Peninnah was still there waiting at the house and was still very much the same Penninah as before. Hannah is still in a busy place without a baby in her arms. But now Hannah is different. God changed her heart before he changed her circumstances. Please, oh please hear this if you are hurting, God does not have to change your circumstances. He is bigger and better than that. He is ready to change your heart. Living in faith is where joy abounds, so go there to that place of faith in Him starting this Sunday! And can I give one more little gold nugget before you do?
Remember that “worthy” extra-special, just-for-her portion that was given to Hannah on these days in verse five? She had missed out on them so many times before. She couldn’t receive that good blessing until she changed her focus. Check out this verse which has just hit my heart like a ton of hallelujah bricks: “My flesh and my heart my fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26
He is your portion! He’s the dark meat and the white meat all combined into one glorious helping to satisfy your deepest hunger. When we make the day about Him, not us, that is when we are able to receive the sweetest pieces of Who He is. And that makes for a very Satisfying Sunday.