Communication is difficult for all of us. Barriers occur between those with racial, socio-economic, and generational differences. Then there are gender differences. The tendency to evaluate people and situations according to our experiences can cause a breakdown in communication.

In Scripture, we have an example of a godly woman who is misunderstood by both her husband and her spiritual leader. Her story provides a template for how to humbly handle ignorance and even false accusation. We can learn much from Hannah.

In 1 Samuel, we read the story of this godly woman. She lived at a time in biblical history when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 21:25). Many of the people of Israel did not follow the Lord. They practiced aberrant worship. In contrast, Hannah and her husband, Elkanah, traveled through dangerous territory to Shiloh, because they were compelled to seek God in His place of worship. Hannah carried grief on the trip. Apparently, she had planned to express her pain in this holy place. Her burden was the inability to bear children. This trial was made worse because she had a rival in her own household — Elkanah’s other wife. Elkanah loved Hannah but apparently did not grasp the depth of his wife’s sadness. He saw her tears and her refusal to eat, but he did not seem to grasp the burden of barrenness.

Hannah’s Husband Does Not Understand Her

Elkanah asked, “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad?” (1 Sam. 1:8). Surely, he knew the answer! His next question reveals that he was indeed aware of the reason for Hannah’s tears: “Am I not more to you than ten sons?” It is true that a husband’s love is of great value to his wife. But in this case, Hannah longed for more. She yearned for a child. Sons were a blessing because they represent a continuation of the family lineage.

Elkanah appears to have asked a series of uncaring questions. On first reading, it appears that he heartlessly and repeatedly asked her to explain why she was downcast. It seems unnecessary to make her explain herself because he must have known the reason for her longing. His fourth question had the implied answer, “It’s true, you are a wonderful husband to me, but it’s not the same as the joy I would receive from holding my own son!” He didn’t seem to grasp the depth of her desire. Not only that but presumably he had taken another wife who could give him children.

A wife may come to you for counseling who has experienced emotional pain and deep sadness, as did Hannah. It seems that her husband doesn’t understand. In fact, he is making her feel worse. When she shares with him, he responds by saying, “But don’t you have plenty of things for which you can give thanks? After all, don’t I provide you with so many material things? Don’t you know I love you? Why are you making yourself so unhappy because you do not have ________?” He sounds as if he is not sympathetic; he only wants to solve the problem rationally!

Several principles in the New Testament can help a wife who feels misunderstood. In 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, we read that a loving reaction includes patience and kindness. There is no irritability or resentfulness. A wife is blessed when she dwells on these verses in the face of her husband’s lack of understanding. When she responds graciously, she is demonstrating wisdom, as Colossians 4:6 teaches. A wife will develop patience and humility after meditating on Romans 12:9-21. Hannah turned her focus on the Lord and not the people around her. She prayed, “My heart exults in the Lord; my horn is exalted in the LORD…I rejoice in your salvation. There is none holy like the LORD: for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God” (1 Sam. 2:1-2). This led Hannah to her place of worship where, unfortunately, her spiritual leader failed her.

Hannah’s Spiritual Leader Does Not Understand Her

Hannah also endured the misfortune of being misunderstood by Eli, the spiritual leader of her day. Hannah’s family group had traveled to Shiloh to worship the Lord. There she poured out her heart in prayer (1 Sam. 1:13). Eli assumed she was drunk; her mouth was moving but no words came out. Hannah’s distress was compounded by this false impression and subsequent rebuke. Hannah defended herself with humility. Twice she described herself to Eli as a servant. She didn’t dissolve into tears but explained that she had drunk “neither wine nor strong drink” (1 Sam. 1:15). Hannah asked Eli to not think of her as a “worthless woman.” She explained the reason for her passionate prayer…she was pleading for a child.

Today’s woman can learn from Hannah’s reaction to a church leader’s misunderstanding. Scripture authorizes a woman to request a meeting to explain her point of view (Matt. 18:15; Gal. 6:1). This is to be handled with humility and tact. We observe that Hannah’s demeanor and words testify to the type of person she is. The same is true for a woman in our day. Her attitude should be one of meekness, not anger or aggression. The goal is to be respectful and God-honoring. James describes the wise and understanding person: “by his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom” (James 3:13).

The pastor and elders of a church will make mistakes from time to time. These men are fallible. Misunderstanding and misreading a situation will sometimes create the need for a woman to make an appeal or clarification. I know a lady in an abusive marriage who believed that her church leaders did not understand the seriousness of the situation. She was told that her husband’s violent outbursts were her fault and she needed to become a more submissive wife. My friend followed the example of Hannah. She respectfully requested a meeting with the pastor and humbly explained what was occurring at home. Her testimony describes a patient and gracious attitude towards these leaders. She is entrusting herself to God as well, which brings peace.

Questions for Reflection

How can Hannah’s example be incorporated into your ministry? When a woman has an issue to discuss with her spiritual leadership, what additional practical advice would you give her? How is today’s woman misunderstood as Hannah was?  What can she learn from Hannah?