Love Suffers Long
LOVE SUFFERS LONG
Jason Headley is an independent filmmaker and maker of the short youtube video It’s Not About The Nail . This video hits the nail on the head, or into the head as the case may be. Imagine this scene. The viewer of the video first sees an up close view of half of a woman’s face as she talks. Here is what she says,
“It’s just, there’s all this pressure, you know. And sometimes it feels like it’s right up on me and I can just feel it, like literally feel it in my head and it’s relentless and I don’t know if it’s gonna stop, I mean, that’s the thing that scares me the most, it’s that I don’t know if it’s ever gonna stop.”
As this woman is expressing her deep vexation and anxiety she turns her head to look at the man next to her. The camera zooms out to reveal a man and a woman sitting on a couch. We discover that this woman literally has a nail embedded in the front of her skull. The man listens and nods. He closes his eyes for a second, as if he is considering the words he is going to say next. Then he opens his eyes, points to the nail in her head and says,
“Ya. Wha-you do a have a nail in your head.” The woman takes on a exasperated expression, the type of face you get when you are feeling like someone is being condescending to you and she says,
“It is not about the nail.”
The man replies,
“Are you sure, because, I mean, I bet if we got that out of there “
The woman replies,
“Stop trying to fix it”
The man replies,
“No, I’m not trying to fix it, I’m just pointing out that maybe the nail is causing —
The woman replies,
You always do this – you always try to fix things when all I really need is for you to just listen.
The man replies,
“No, see, I don’t think that is what you need, I think what you need is to get the nail out –“
The woman replies,
“SEE YOU’RE NOT EVEN LISTENING NOW!”
The man replies,
“Ok, fine. I will listen, fine.”
The woman continues with her description of her suffering,
It’s just – sometimes it’s like – there’s this achy. I don’t know what it is. And I’m not really sleeping very well at all. And all my sweaters are snagged. I mean – all of them.
The man replies,
“That sounds really hard.”
The woman smiles and says,
“It is. Thank you.” She reaches out for his hand to show her appreciation. Then she leans in to kiss her boyfriend. But before they can kiss the nail gets in the way, bumping up against the man’s head, and preventing the kiss.
“Oww!” the woman declares
“ Oh come on – If you would just –,” the man seems to about ready to bring up the nail again but the woman cuts him off by raising her hand and declaring,
This video has been viewed 16, 128,206 times on the popular video streaming site youtube, which suggests to me that Headley has hit the nail on the head or the nail into the head as the case may be in creating a modern day parable for the frustration that men and women have communicating with each other.
As frustrated as this woman is with her boyfriend if she had to experience Hannah’s suffering being married to Elkanah she might be grateful for her lugnut of a boyfriend. Because Elkanah doesn’t even seem to see what the nail is. His wife is barren in a culture that requires women to have sons and he says, “Am I not more valuable than ten sons?” says the man with sons through another women. And we get uncomfortable because maybe we have all been there. Maybe we have been insensitive. Maybe we have tried to help but we couldn’t help.
“Love is patient”. The Apostle Paul tells us in his great meditation on God’s love. But why? Why is love patient? Tells us now preacher, in under twenty minutes, because I got somewhere to be after church, and please refrain from puns. I am losing patience with your puns preacher.
The Greek Word for “patience” could also be translated “long suffering”, hence my title Love Suffers Long. A more literal translation of the word might be “big anger”, “big passion”, or “big feelings”. Love is able to handle other people’s big feelings. The word specifically refers to the suffering we endure when we are being subject to other people’s passions. Love is patient, love suffers long, because people are different. Not just men and women. But God has created us all as individuals. We are all unique. The suffering that Paul is talking about and Hannah is enduring is the suffering of not being understood. This is a theme throughout Hannah’s story. Even when she is praying fervently in the Spirit in the Temple, Eli thinks she is drunk and he tells her to go home.
There is a deep pain in this passage. Where we see someone we love some one we love suffering and we don’t know how to help. Elkanah seems to be a genuinely caring man and he wanted to help but he didn’t know how. If we have a nail in our head, if we have a problem, no one likes having that pointed out. And if we deal with it in the wrong way it can hurt our relationships. But as the video suggests if we leave the nail in our head it can also cause problems in our relationships. So how do help each other get the nail out of our head in a way that is helpful and not hurtful? I have three points today.
- Show Empathy
- Pray with The Spirit
- Create something from suffering
First we need to show empathy. And this does mean listening before we talk. Empathy requires something from the one who is listening. And it requires something from the one who is suffering. From the one who is listening it requires that we recognize that people really are different and that understanding requires some patience and suffering on our part. Proverbs 14:10 says, “the heart knows its own bitterness and no stranger shares its joy.” This gets to the feeling that we all have of being alone, of being misunderstood, and of feeling like a stranger. The only way to stop feeling like strangers it to commit to one another and take the time to get to know one another. The Bible has a word for this. The word is Covenant. A Covenant is a commitment. God is Love and God is a covenant cutting God. True love, true intimacy, is not possible without a commitment to get to know people.
For those who are suffering and who want others to listen we also have a role to play. We must recognize that while everyone is different we are also the same in many ways. We are all human beings made in the image of God. We are all unique but we also have a lot in common. The Christian artist Mandesa in her song , “Bleed the Same” puts it this way. “We all bleed the same. We’re more beautiful when we come together. We all bleed the same. So tell me why we’re divided.”
Mandesa points out that we are all human, that we all bleed the same, so this should be a cause for our unity. Yet, if recognizing our humanness were enough to bring unity we would all be singing kumbaya in a drum circle. Obviously that is not the case. Why are we divided? The simple answers is because while we are the same in some ways we have vastly different life experiences. Try as I might I cannot imagine what is like to have a womb, to have a life growing inside of me, or what it would be like to be denied that blessing. We go through different experiences based on our biology, personal experience, and culture. And these experiences shape us in profound ways.
And yet empathy isn’t based on having the same experience. Certainly, the most powerful type of compassion is. Those of us who have been hungry give to foodbanks more. Those of us who have lost a spouse or a child know that simple words are not enough to comfort. Yet, perhaps our lack of empathy is due more to a lack of imagination than it is to a lack of experience. While we may have different experiences perhaps we experience similar emotions to different trials. I may not have a barren womb but maybe I know what it is to feel hopeless and barren in other areas of my life. Maybe my suffering, though from a different cause is like your suffering in the way it makes me feel. Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with temptation he will also provide a way of escape, that you may endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13). If we can all look at a blue crayon and call it blue, then perhaps when I am feeling blue you might be know the same feeling too. Yet, if we assume that no one can understand us because they haven’t been through what we have been through, then we isolates ourselves. It is a self fulfilling prophecy. If we think “he doesn’t understand me” or “she doesn’t understand me” then that person will not be able to understand us because we have precluded the possibility of being understood in our minds.
Next we see that Hannah prays. She brings her prayers and supplications to the Lord as Paul would advise ( Philippians 4:6). She prays with such passion that Eli thinks she is drunk. Her prayers have moved beyond words to be guided by the Holy Spirit. This is what the scriptures would call praying in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:19). This isn’t necessarily praying in what Pentecostals would call tongues, or in a language you don’t know, though that is one expression of praying in the Spirit. I believe that praying in the Spirit is coming to a point where you allow God to guide the Words you are praying. People are unique. But God is unique in that He knows every heart. So it makes sense that we should go to God in prayer about those we love before we talk to others about those we love. Because we know in part and so do those we complain to or ask for advice. God knows in full. And maybe he can guide is into a better picture of what truly is going on. That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t ask for advice or we don’t need people to vent to. But it means we should go to the Lord first in prayer before we go to others.
Finally, the story suggests that we are to create something through suffering. This creation is not for our sake but for the sake of others. We see that as Hannah prays the Spirit leads her beyond her personal concerns to God’s plan. God is not cruel in that he would require every woman to give up their child to answer their prayer for children. Nor is this some magic prayer formula where we can imitate Hannah and thereby get what we want from God.
When we are in pain we tend to fill ourselves with all sorts of things. Some good and some friend. We fill our lives with friendships, relationship, family, food, drugs, alcohol. But what Hannah is doing in her pain is not filling herself but emptying herself to the Lord. And it is good to have friends. It is good to confide in others. It is good to treat ourselves and be kind to ourselves. But what the scriptures say is first we should pour ourselves out before God before we pour ourselves out before others.
There is an important difference between the question, “why is this happening to me?” and why is this happening?” “Why is this happening to me?” is a question full of resentment. But why is this happening? is asking God how to use our pain to the good. The point of Hannah’s prayer is she becomes willing to become part of God’s greater purposes. The Holy Spirit guides her to give Samuel over to the Temple. In 1 Samuel chapter 2 we see that Hannah moves from her concerns to the concerns of others. She she praises God for his grace towards all the barren, towards all the poor, and that he is the one who gives strength to Kings. And indeed, her child Samuel would be called by God to reform the Temple system and to call both Saul and David to be Kings over Israel.
Nancy Smith is one of our members who is starting a Grief Share group here at Calvin. Grief Share is a faith based ministry that comes alongside those who have suffered the loss of a loved one. Many of you know that Nancy lost her beloved husband a couple of years ago. But she decided that love suffers long and that she would let God work through her to bring comfort to others who are grieving. Whether you have lost a spouse or a loved one or not you know what it is to lose something for there is no trial that is not common to everyone. Remember that loss and feel compassion for those who have lost. We need your help to get this grief share group going. Nancy needs help to lead the group. She needs help to invite people who need this type of ministry. So contact the office. Or contact Nancy Smith. Let us commit to let God bring beauty from the ashes of our suffering. For God is Love. And Love Suffers Long.
In the name of the Father, Son, And Holy Spirit. Amen.