Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Samuel 2:1-10
In my vocation I read (and subsequently write) a lot. Folks who are avid readers are well acquainted with the two types of literature – fiction and non-fiction – which are then categorized further into the genres of literature – autobiographies, biographies, romance, suspense, mystery, thriller, fantasy, self-help and more. In my experience there are additional genres of literature – the good, the superb, the bad, the excruciating, the humorous, the you-gotta-be-kidding-me-did-you-really-write-this, and, my personal favorite, the i-will-reward-myself-with-reading-something-else-for-every-one-paragraph-I-read-of-this.
I had a wonderful professor at Florida Southern College who always reminded (and reminds!) me to be a generous reader to the authors…sometimes generosity flows more freely than at others.
One book that completely captured my attention a few years ago, and I continue to return to it, is Dr. Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. Dr. Brown is a licensed master social worker and is a professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. Her research is in the areas of studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. The title of her book, Daring Greatly, comes from a quote by Theodore Roosevelt that reads,
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
In this quote Roosevelt – and Dr. Brown – lift up the people that are present in living life. Their present living may be a moment of struggle or their present living may be a moment of triumph. Regardless, they are living. They are active. They are not on the sidelines or in the bleachers hollering out coulda woulda shouldas. They are at the plate. They are on the starting line. They are jumping for the tip ball. They are defending the end zone. They are in the arena. They are on the field. They are running on the court. And they are working cooperatively to alter their circumstance. Dr. Brown would say that folks on the sidelines or in the bleachers should be muted. Unless they are willing to enter the arena themselves, their comments should stay to themselves.
This week in Rock of Ages we turn our attention to a study of Hannah, the mother of Samuel. She, like many women in Scripture, was barren. Her inability to produce a child meant that she brought shame upon herself, her husband, and her family. There would be no heir to inherit their land, their goods, their history, or their faith. Bystanders and sideliners – Peninnah in particular – mocked and ridiculed Hannah, which compounded her grief and grated away even more of her self-worth.
Hannah had a choice. She could wallow in self-pity or she could enter the arena. Having grieved (and having accomplished nothing more than grieving) Hannah entered the arena, which in her context was the temple. Hannah was “deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. She made this vow: O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant…” (I Sam 1:10-11). Her prayer brought her up to the starting line, she grounded her stance next to the plate, she centered herself in front of the net, and she engaged. She dared greatly in asking for what she wanted – a child, specifically a son – knowing full well that she may not have received. In making this plea before the Lord she honored herself by naming what she wanted, she made a public display of faith, and made a public affirmation that she is worthy, and able, and capable of coming before the Lord with the deepest concerns of her heart.
I know that when I pray I am quick to pray for others, for our leaders at every level and kind of administration, for the church, for the world. I am not so quick to pray for myself or to reveal the deepest concerns of my heart before God – which is silly because God already knows. And yet, I think it is an act of daring greatly and entering the arena to bear my heart before my God and share my concerns with God personally rather than God observing them from afar. I believe doing so places me in agreement with Hannah – that I am worthy, able, and capable of coming before God and that God is worthy, able, and capable of receiving what I share.
This exchange strengthens our relationship. This exchange honors God as God and guards me from thinking (and acting like) I need to be in control at all times. Stepping into this arena with God does not mean we are opponents; we are on the same team. Stepping into the arena means I am willing to take the risks of vulnerability, to face my fears, to share my heart, and be led by the greatest coach of all time who is wherever I am – on the sideline, on the field, and definitely in my heart.
Prayer: “Lord, I want to be more holy in my heart. Here is the citadel of all my desiring, where my hopes are born and all the deep resolutions of my spirit take wings. In this center, my fears are nourished, and all my hates are nurtured. Here my loves are cherished, and all the deep hungers of my spirit are honored without quivering and without shock. In my heart, above all else, let love envelop me until my love is perfected and the last vestige of my desiring is no longer in conflict with thy Spirit. Lord, I want to be more holy in my heart. Amen.”*
*”For Holiness of Heart,” The United Methodist Hymnal 401.