Pastoral ministry does have its times when it becomes necessary to speak specifically to gender. Garner is probably a bit less like Raleigh when sermons address issues directly relate to either a male or female. For the most part, addressing those issues meets little resistance here whereas in other areas, it would appear that folks want no gender distinctions to be made.
No matter what, there are times where the distinctions are clear, and we would be wise to pay attention to them. In the book of 1 Samuel, we see the story of Hannah, the struggling barren women crying her heart out before God, and Eli the Priest, rebuking her, and in that story, I think a few distinct gender issues arise.
Hannah has suffered for years wanting a child within a home of mockery and some levels of insensitivity. As a result, she leaves a family meal, walks outside and as scripture describes it, “She begins to pray and weep bitterly.” Eli the Priest sees her lips moving silently, and he jumps to the conclusion that she is a drunk woman. He rebukes her as such. Hannah responds, “Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety.”
Here is where I think we should see and learn a few things.
I imagine, and my conversations this past week bear it out, that there are many women who are valiantly working and struggling to maintain in their lives. The overwhelming demands of home, children, work, and other areas are just be soul-crushing. Whether the struggle be trying to get ahead at work, working in the midst of pregnancy, or even simply preparing a meal, the demands and expectations at times are so great. Many women would love to just say to the other people in their lives, “Hey, I’m not a worthless woman. I am just full of anxiety. Please be patient with me.”
And at the same time, many men are like Eli. They are too quick to jump to conclusions based on a few facts as Eli did. Many men walk around with a prescription pad in their pocket, and whenever their wife is in need, they whip the prescription pad out and say, “Let me tell you what you are doing wrong and what you need to do to fix it.” Though suggestions and ideas might be helpful, jumping straight to that point rarely communicates compassionate.
The hope in this passage is that Hannah is heard by God. She cries with vexation and anxiety, and God hears her. I don’t just mean that He answers her prayers. He does. But in a compassionate sense, God hears her. He cares as she pours out her heart. And in that, we see hope for our souls and example for our days.