I wrote a post about Abraham recently, and it got me thinking about his wife Sarah.
She's a bit of a minor character in his story. She shows up a couple of times and shows herself to be a little bit jaded.
Case in point: After her son Isaac is born, she orders her maidservant Hagar away, because she feels threatened by Hagar and her son Ishmael (who, incidentally, is also Abraham's son, and older than her own Isaac).
It's not one of Sarah's proudest moments. She comes across bitter and angry and a little spoiled. Honestly, it's no wonder our name means "princess."
Honestly, she comes across kind of cynical. There's another famous section of the book of Genesis: Abraham is visited by God Himself.
There are three people in this visiting party. I've heard theories that it's God and two angels. I've heard theories that suggest that it's the three members of the Trinity: God, Christ, and Spirit. As I write this, it's approaching Trinity Sunday (June 11, this year), and if it were the three members of the Trinity, I think it would be pretty appropriate. I digress.
God tells Abraham that Sarah will have a son. He makes no bones about it.
Keep in mind: at this time, Abraham was 100. Sarah was ninety.
(It's hard to type the name with an H, y'all. I'm so used to the name being H-less. I digress again.)
Sarah was listening to this conversation. She wasn't present, but she was listening inside their tent. When God told her husband that she would conceive and bear a son in her old age -- well.
I imagine her wiping her eyes as she asked, "Shall I bear a son in my old age?"
But I have trouble believing that she was only cynical.
We laugh when we're uncomfortable. We laugh when we don't know what else to do. I can't tell you the number of social interactions I've had where I had NO IDEA what the person said, so I just laughed in response. It seems appropriate, and you're tired of asking them to repeat things, so rather than ask for the fifth time, you just laugh, hoping that's the response they were looking for.
We laugh when we don't know what else to do. And somehow I wonder if that's what my girl Sarah was thinking here.
I wonder --
I wonder how long she and Abraham had tried for a child of their own. How old she was when she gave up trying. When she knew her biological clock had run out.
In those days, if you couldn't have children, you were a pariah. Something was wrong with you. God (or the gods, in Ur where they had come from) had something against you; you had sinned.
Something was wrong with you.
I wonder if she had wondered if her husband would stop loving her. If she had steeled herself against the shady looks from other women in Ur.
I wonder if when Abraham (Abram then) had told her that they were leaving -- I wonder if she was relieved.
I mean, I'm sure she was sad to be leaving everything she knew -- but I wonder if once she left that city, she breathed a little freer, felt a little release.
I wonder if she was so glad to be gone, away from those looks, headed toward a new life. I wonder if she was so freaking tired of others' pity, in addition to their contempt.
Contempt. I wonder if that's what she felt on all sides, pressing in on her until she just couldn't stand it.
She was still beautiful, but she could have no children.
Sarah had stopped hoping.
My God, in all the senses of My God, what a terrible place to be.
She had resigned herself to the fact that she would never have a child, that she would never be what she longed to be. Would never be a fully realized woman in her society.
And then these three strangers showed up to her and Abe's home-on-the-road -- the place where they had pitched their tents simply because God had said to, had said Stop here -- three strangers showed up, and she overheard them saying that she would have a child.
I wonder if something caught in her throat. If her breath quickened.
And I imagine that when she laughed, it was to squash the rush of hope that came surging up her windpipe and through her veins.
I wonder if she laughed, tried to keep some cynicism and despair, tried to keep a lid on it -- because she was so afraid it would not come true.
She feared she would be disappointed again.
Don't we do this, too? We are given the opportunity to hope, and then -- and then, and then, and then. Oh, my friends, how often do we clap a stone lid of heartlessness over the tenderness of hope that springs into being?
Hope is longing to be born in us. We think we've squashed it, but it is surprisingly resilient. Its roots stay buried deep in the ground until the day they get a teensy bit of sunlight.
Well, if we give hope an inch, it will take a mile, and we will become lost to it. We will be unable to shake the water droplets of hope from off our skin. We will be crawling in it. We will be drowning in it, overcome by it. Transformed by it.
But we are so afraid to allow it in, because we do not believe that hope will come true. Or maybe we do, and that's what scares us. Because what if we believe that it will come true and then it doesn't?
Yes, indeed: what then?
Sarah squelched her seedling hope because she had been disappointed often enough. I wonder how many times she thought she was pregnant and then wasn't, or how many times she had failed to carry a child to term.
We are afraid that if we hope and it does not come true, that then we will die.
How can we withstand the pain again?
How can we possibly survive the knife in our guts, the knife of disappointed hopes and lacerated dreams?
And yet -- and yet, and yet, and yet.
God calls us into hope.
I have asked Him this question: What if I give myself to you and allow myself to hope, and it does not come true? What then?
He answers me: You will be okay.
And I will. It's the truth.
But over the last year, the real answer that I feel in my heart and bones and flesh and all the way out to the ends of the hair on my arms, all the way out to the blades of my fingernails -- the real answer is this:
I will not disappoint you.
And that's what God says to Sarah here. He heard her laugh and asked, "Why did you laugh?"
She denied it. Of course. What else would I do, would you do, in a situation like that? Can we imagine how awkward it must have been?
God saw through her. "You DID laugh," He said, and then: "But you will bear a son." Like I said, girl.
I can only imagine her reaction. I like to think she was sobered a little bit. That she maybe believed it was possible, even for just a hot second.
I know for a fact that the fingers of hope seized her heart. Suddenly she was in its grip. She couldn't fight it anymore. The desire was too strong, the hope too great, God too powerful.
Our hopes don't always come true at first, and sometimes not ever. But what you say to us through it all is that I will not disappoint you.
Because You don't.
God has never not come through for you.
We are allowed to hope.
The reason hope is so slow to die and quick to rise again is because we were made for hope. If we were made in the image of God, which we were, then we can know it is true: we were made for hope.
The coming-true or whatever doesn't always look like we think it will, or think it should; it doesn't always play out the way we see it in our minds. But. Even if it doesn't, what we get? It's better.
I know because I. have. seen. it.
And guess what? Sarah's hope came true. A year later, she was a mother. She gave birth to a squalling baby boy in her old age. She was in her nineties, and here she was, a first-time mother!
She was vindicated, she was honorable, she was brave, she was right. If only the women in Ur could see her now.
She named her son Isaac. It means laughter.
She wanted to always remember the day her hope rose again.
Because it does -- time and time and time again.