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  • Mariah Martin

Radical Acceptance

1 Samuel 1:1-8

I need to make a confession; I was ridiculously happy when I got the sermon surveys back (like months ago) and I saw that “Relationships” scored high as far as which topic you would me to preach about. I jumped on the opportunity to talk about relationships, especially the wild and weird relationships we find in the Bible. BECAUSE when we talk about relationships, we end up talking about love.

I am a die-hard endlessly optimistic romantic.[1] My best friend from high school used to say, all the time, “I Love Love”. And I honestly could not agree with him more. I love love.

I love talking about love and relationships even more than I love squirrels, coffee, and supernatural t.v. shows. Which is saying a lot. I think I have “loved love” for a long time now. Growing up I couldn’t get enough of romantic comedies. There is nothing like cuddling up with your friends, with blankets and popcorn, and then crying together while watching the Notebook or the Titanic. But I get frustrated that these movies, supposedly about love, end right as the couple finally gets together!

Where are the movies about what happens after people get together?

Where are the movies about the difficulties of sharing a tube of toothpaste, or dramas about washing dishes…where are the movies about couples counseling, and reconciling fights with your best friend?

Where are the movies about loving someone who has depression?

I want more depth. I want to see a real representation of what it actually looks like to love someone. Because, the getting together part, in my opinion, isn’t actually about love. It’s about attraction and curiosity and a challenge.

The love part emerges when you stick with someone even if they don’t match your expectations for what a spouse or a best friend “should” look like. So, shameless plug for the Bible here. The amazing thing about studying relationships in the Bible is that the Bible does not place a filter on difficulties in relationship.

In fact, it skips the whole romance part. If you tried to make a "romcom" out of any biblical relationship it would be, well, disturbing.

This doesn’t mean that there was no love in the Bible, it just looked different from what we see today. Emotional needs were not dependent on finding the “right” person. Soulmates weren’t a thing. Needs were met by being surrounded by a community, a tribe.

Of course, part of why there is no romance in the Bible is that relationships were not built on romance.[2] Now, the good part about this is that we skip any surface-level interactions and just dive headfirst into the difficulties of doing life with someone.

The Scripture we read today is only 8 verses long. And Elkanah’s family lineage takes up a fourth of it. A significant chunk of these verses outlines the conflict between Elkanah’s two wives, Peninnah and Hannah. Peninnah has lots of children and Hannah has none, which upsets her greatly. This sounds an awful lot like the conflict between Rachel and Leah that we just heard about.

However, a big difference lies in Elkanah. When Rachel confronted Jacob about her lack of children, Jacob was like, “Don’t blame me, who am I, God?”. However, Elkanah has a significantly different response to his wife’s circumstance.

We see in verse 5 that Elkanah loves Hannah and he feels bad for her grief over not having children. To demonstrate this, he gives her a double portion of meat. Wouldn’t it be funny if this was how we showed affection today? I love you honey, here is twice the amount of steak I gave to my other wife. I hope this soothes your barren womb.

Anyway, time passes and Hannah remains childless, growing more and more upset and desperate. Her worth as a woman hinged on her ability to have children. If she didn’t fill this role, what good was she? If not for the affection of her husband, she could be exiled by the family, basically kicked out to die. The ability to procreate was about worth and survival.

Yet when Elkanah found Hannah refusing to eat and weeping because Peninnah was teasing her, he did not react with contempt, anger, or shame. He asked her why she was crying and why she wouldn’t eat…but he knew the answer. He knew she was upset at the fact that she had no children, because then he said something that I find amazing, “Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”[3]

Elkanah asks her this but we do not get to hear if Hannah answers him or not. All we see next is Hannah crying and pleading with God to give her a son.[4] Fast-forward a couple of verses, Hannah gets what she wants. She becomes pregnant with Samuel after bargaining with God that if she became pregnant, she would dedicate her child to the Lord.

We are left to make assumptions here. Because we don’t get to hear Hannah speak we are left to interpret her actions. If her answer to Elkanah was, “yes, you are worth more to me than ten sons,” then presumably we would then see her comforted and content with her situation.

But that’s not the case. So I am going to assume that the answer was negative. No, Elkanah does not mean more to her than having a child. Having a son remains desperately important to Hannah, more important than her husband. I wish we knew how this made Eli feel. But we are left to guess.[5]

Elkanah’s question, “Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” implies that he finds Hannah worthy, not for her ability to give him a son, but for her role in their marriage. This is radical within a time where marital relationships are largely transactional. His question dives to the heart of much of what romantic comedies lack, the reality of our vulnerable search for worth, acceptance, and trust. I have a feeling that this story-line wouldn’t sell many tickets, largely because we, as a society, seem to be terrified of acknowledging our emotional needs.[6]

Biology, sociology, and psychology all tell us that we are pack animals, that we are inherently social, that we need relationships in order to survive and thrive. We see this in the Bible too. Look at Genesis. God said that we are not complete alone. God created us to be in relationship with one another.

So why do we pretend that we don’t? When we rely on others, when we lean on one another for affection, love, and safety then we give them the power to deny, reject, and wound us. Being out of control in this way is scary.

See here is the catch with deep relationships. For them to be successful and rich, we must be vulnerable. We must share parts of ourselves that we aren’t proud of. We must share our greatest fears and our most secret desires.[7]

However, when we do this, then our partner or friend could use these tender parts of us to wound us. To shame, embarrass, or harm us. That is terrifying.

We rely on our partners and close friends in the exact same way we relied/still rely on our parents for love and care.[8] And wounds from these loved ones can be crippling. On the other hand, when our fears, desires, and need are met with acceptance, with comfort, reassurance, and respect, then we are empowered.

We don’t realize it, but in seemingly unimportant interactions with our loved ones, we are constantly asking them: Are you there for me? Do you accept me for who I am? Will you show up when I need you? We extend our hand, praying that our loved one will take it. This is, what author Andrea Miller would call “radical acceptance.”

In preparation for this series on relationships, I read her book appropriately titled, “Radical Acceptance: The Secret to Happy, Lasting Love”. While this book is largely written with romantic relationships in mind, I think it offers a powerful message for all types of relationships, including family and friend relations.

Miller challenges the reader to go “all in,” and be “150 percent invested in the relationship…committing to going the extra mile, not expecting them to meet you halfway out of the gate.

The idea behind “Radical Acceptance” is that if you accept and love all parts of your friend, sister, or spouse, then your relationship will blossom. Miller has no illusions that this is easily done…the book is almost 300 pages long.

I want to offer a caveat; Miller is emphatic that radical acceptance does not condone abusive behavior. I don’t have time to go into this more, but if you are curious you can talk with me about his later.[9]

When you might feel tempted to criticize, she instructs you to extend empathy. To radically accept someone, you must give them permission to be who they are without shame. To do this you must operate out of a place of abundance, similar to how Elkanah did.[10]

So, what does this look like?

Miller came up with a three-step process to help you refrain from criticism and reacting out of anger and instead take the time to: Stop, Reflect, and Introspect.

Instead of reacting, you simply stop—don’t stay anything, and take a second to breathe.

Next reflect on why you were about to react negatively. Are you hungry? Tired? Did the other person trigger a deep-seated fear of yours?

Then Introspect, look within and name the darkest, scariest and most broken parts of yourself that create irrational fears. Is your annoyance actually about a habit that you are embarrassed of within yourself and not about the other person at all? The pain you are feeling in the moment, when was the earliest time you felt that pain? Is this a childhood wound? Is this fight rooted in a fear of being alone? Abandoned?

Often the “fights” you might have in your life are not about whatever the silly thing you are fighting about, but something much deeper. The fights are a façade, they serve as a proxy for what is really going on.

To give you an example from my life, the other night Nick was showering, and I went to go into the bathroom to brush my teeth. We were the only ones in the house and when I went to open the door, I found it locked. There is a way to open the door from the outside, you can take a scissors and if you angle it properly, it can fit in a notch in the handle creating enough leverage to unlock the door.

Anyway, Nick is excellent at using the scissors to unlock the door. I am not. I can do it quickly about a third of the time. Usually I struggle, causing damage to the door.I am honestly amazed this hasn’t resulted in an injury yet.

Nick heard me say, “NICK” out of frustration, then he heard me complain and grumble as I fumbled with the scissors, eventually opening the door. Upon entering I immediately said, in an accusatory tone, “Why did you lock the door? We are the only ones home.” He responded by saying that he did it out of habit, noting that it’s not a bad habit to lock the bathroom door when the house is usually occupied by various guests who could accidentally come in, creating all sorts of embarrassment. He said he was frustrated that I was frustrated and complaining that I couldn’t open the door.

You see, this is what you would call a “stupid fight”. A locked door is not worth an emotional response and an argument. But we have these “stupid fights” with our friends, family, and spouses all the time.

What if I had, upon discovering that the door was locked, STOPPED, taken a breath, refrained from voicing my annoyance and calmly retrieved the scissors to unlock the door?

What if, while I was unlocking the door I REFLECTED on the reason why the door was locked in the first place. What if I took the time to INTROSPECT and be curious as to why this was generating an emotional response within me. What was this really about?

You see, our fight about the locked door, wasn’t about the locked door. It was about deeper insecurities, desires, and expectations. When we break it down like this, we can see that there is not “right” or “wrong” in this situation. The kicker is that we must care more about the other person than we do about being right.

We all have fears and insecurities. How would our relationships be different if we took the time to Stop, Reflect, and Introspect? Its cheesy but catchy and effective with practice. What if we dug deep and acknowledged what the true source of our anger, frustration, embarrassment, or criticism is?

We are human. We are vulnerable and scared and emotional. That is ok. It is ok to feel things. To be mad at our spouse or friend. It is what we do with our emotions that matters.

Friends, life is too short to spend our time with our loved ones sparring in “stupid fights”. We could all benefit by following Elkanah’s example of reaching out with vulnerability. We could recognize the true “fight” is a desire for closeness, for safety in relationships. The “enemy” in relationships is not the other person, it is the unhealthy manifestation of our inner fears and insecurities.

The problem was not Hannah or Elkanah, it was Hannah’s (understandable) fear that she was not worthy of love and acceptance if she didn’t provide him children. This was so ingrained in her that she couldn’t see him reaching out, she couldn’t hear his fear of not being enough for her.

Can we love ourselves enough to extend radical acceptance to one another? Even if they don’t show up for us right away, or the way we expect, can we dive headfirst with vulnerability and unconditional love. Trusting that in a healthy relationship this will eventually be reciprocated? Can we tell our loved one that we accept them as they are? Can we reassure them that we are there for them, no matter what?

I challenge you to try this week to “Radically Accept” your loved ones. When you are tempted to lash out, Stop, Reflect, Introspect. What is really going on here? When you are tempted to blame or shame, try to understand and extend compassion instead.

Bonneyville, I ask you join me in the quest to “love love”. TRUE Love. Not “rom com” love. Rather the deep, ache in your heart, day-to-day desire for closeness and acceptance. Take that love and extend it to those you are closest to.

Radically Accept them as they are.

It is possible. It is worth it. Our lives literally depend on it

Like the quote by Wes Angelozzi says, “Go and love someone exactly as they are.

And then watch how quickly they transform into the greatest version of themselves.

When one feels seen and appreciated in their own essence, one is instantly empowered.”

May it be so.

Works Consulted

“A Wife’s Vow--the Husband’s Woe?: The Case of Hannah and Elkanah (1 Samuel ...: EBSCOhost.” Accessed September 13, 2019.

Backon, Joshua. “Prooftext That Elkanah Rather than Hannah Consecrated Samuel as a Nazirite.” Jewish Bible Quarterly 42, no. 1 (January 2014): 52–53.

“Commentary on 1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20] by Beth L. Tanner.” Accessed September 25, 2018.

“Commentary on 1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20] by Roger Nam.” Accessed September 25, 2018.

“Commentary on 1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20] by Valerie Bridgeman.” Accessed September 25, 2018.

[1] I am a 4 on the Enneagram and so my “personality type” is called the “Individualist,” but it is also sometimes called “The Romantic” which I think is pretty fitting.

[2] It wasn’t until 300 years ago that relationships were built off of mutual respect and affection. A consensual choice between two autonomous individuals. Most of the relationships in the Bible were arranged marriages. They were a political and social exchange of currency. With

women, animals, and other goods as payment. They were designed to keep property and religion within the family.

[3] It is a simple sentence, largely ignored by most commentators. Usually pastors and writers do not focus on this part, they are too caught up with a miraculous birth and Samuel’s story.

[4] She is so emotional that the priest Eli thought she was drunk.

[5] The next thing we hear from him is in verse 21. Elkanah goes to offer a sacrifice again but Hannah tells him she will not go with him this time. She told Eli that after Samuel is weaned, she is going to take him and present him to the Lord. He will live with the priest in the house of the Lord for the rest of his life. Elkanah says, “Do what seems best to you. Stay here until you have weaned him; only may the Lord make good his word.” So Elkanah lets Hannah choose the future of Samuel, trusting that God will keep God’s promise. Again we see Elkanah extend grace and love. He gives up control and allows Hannah to do what she feels is best for her child. Elkanah could have felt bitter and rejected after Hannah continued her quest for fulfilment by bearing a child. But it seems as though he still cares and respects Hannah and her decisions. This is an incredibly mature response. Instead of acting out of fear of losing Hannah and their son, he remains confident in their relationship and trusts God.

[6] The U.S. has an origin story based on individual effort and independence. The “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality is, in my opinion, incredibly problematic. This mentality of unhealthy individualism doesn’t lead to independence, but spirals us into loneliness and self-hatred. The idea that we are 100% self-sufficient, that we don’t need others, is just not true.

[7] Want to add that I also believe that privacy is an important right in every relationship. We shouldn’t feel pressured to share anything we aren’t ready to.

[8] This is called “attachment theory” in psychology. Sue Johnson writes compellingly about this theory in her books: Love Sense and Hold Me Tight: 7 Conversations for a Lifetime of Love.

[9]Miller is careful to distinguish which characteristics are healthy to fully accept and which aren’t, otherwise you would simply be allowing an abusive situation to continue. For example, she encourages the reader to fully accept their partners odd habits, or unattractive qualities. She doesn’t encourage you to allow someone to threaten your safety or make you feel crazy. Miller says, over and over, that radically accepting someone does not make you a doormat. In fact if makes you more confident and gives you strength.

[10] If you have a strong sense of self-worth and a healthy sense of what you want from the relationship, you are then less likely to allow your emotional baggage to be projected onto your partner, causing you to overreact, start to blame, or become defensive.

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