The Heart of Womanhood

Is my life a mistake? Does it have meaning? Am I the right person for this position?

If you have had days when questions like that crossed your mind, you are not alone.  Lately, I’ve been rereading Biblical passages about a woman named Sarah.  I’ve been thinking how difficult her inability to bear children must have been for her, especially since God had promised her husband, Abraham, that he would be the father of a nation and that he would have descendants more numerous than the stars in the sky. Sometimes it’s easy for a woman who is married to a leader to believe she is not the right wife for her husband…to feel she does not quite measure up.  In professional relationships, too, it can be tempting to look around and notice other people who are more talented in an area where one does not have strengths. What does not occur to us as easily is to remember that God gives each of us talents and gifts that are unique in all the world.

We don’t need to compare ourselves with others. We need only apply ourselves to the tasks at hand and ask God to direct the unfolding our our lives so that we are faithful stewards of the relationships and resources He has given us.

Perhaps Sarah fell into the unhealthy temptation of comparing herself with others who had  children. Or perhaps she was merely following an accepted practice in ancient Mesopotamian and middle eastern cultures, when she suggested that her handmaiden could possibly bear children for them.  After all, didn’t other barren women fulfill their family longing in that way?

It didn’t occur to Sarah that any promise God made to her husband would also include her. He is not a God of exclusion, but of inclusion.  His plans are always for the health and well-being of relationships and families.   The thought of waiting for God to bring His plan to fruition might not have been a concept with which she was familiar.  (And truthfully, waiting for God to act in our lives may be one of the hardest tasks any of us ever face.)

However, after pressing her own plan into action, Sarah was not prepared for the way she felt when her young hand maiden, Hagar, became pregnant with Abraham’s child.  She was not prepared for her own jealousy of Hagar or the deepening personal insecurity she felt, noticing– maybe for the first time– that Hagar was pretty and strong and desirable.

Nor was she prepared for how she would feel when Hagar’s son, Ishmael, was born.  In the culture of their day, a child born by a surrogate maid-servant  was considered to belong to married couple she served.  However, during Hagar’s pregnancy, relations had grown distant and tense between Sarah and Hagar, destroying any pretense that the son belonged to Sarah.

So for 13 long years, Sarah watched young Ishmael grow, while Hagar nurtured him and Abraham adored Ishmael as his only son. Surely Sarah adored Ishmael, too. But the deeper her affection grew for the child, the deeper the pain of her own barrenness.

Then, when Abraham and Sarah’s years were so advanced it would be clear to everyone that conception of their child was a supernatural event, Sarah became pregnant with a son. How buoyant their faith and joy in The Lord must have been at the news! (That joy was likely tinged somewhat with worry, as they wondered if they would have the strength and wisdom to raise their treasured son.)

Then, how ecstatic they must have been when Isaac was finally born! How protective they must have felt of their long awaited son! He was healthy and adorable.

However, he was also a normal child; thus he likely had days when he was very irritating. And one fateful day, Sarah witnessed Ishmael, 13 years Isaac’s senior, taunting her child. Sarah’s protective instincts were aroused (inflamed, really, due to her history with Ishmael’s mom).  So with Abraham’s probably reluctant permission, Sarah sent Hagar and young Ishmael permanently away from her family, into the desert and the unknown.

In this stormy set of relationships, we have the beginning of the emotional distance and many would say “enmity” between the descendants of Ishmael (Muslims and Arabs) and the descendants of Isaac (Christians and Jews).

As I was rereading this story, I was feeling both Sarah and Hagar’s pain.  But perhaps I was focused on Sarah more because I saw some of my weaknesses in her. Hagar, as a servant, had less power to affect the situation (though she could have had a better attitude toward her mistress)

BBut in Sarah, I saw my own insecurities.

I would have felt jealous and old and worthless, too.  I would have worried I was losing my husband and then later worried for the safety of my son.  Even as a believer who loves and trusts God, I probably would have fearfully tried to protect my son at all costs….maybe even unintentionally (and unhealthily) making an idol of him.  It’s easy to justify her actions as being “only human”.

I wondered…what if Sarah had had enough trust in God and enough personal security to love Hagar and Ishmael, even at moments when she was uncomfortable watching Abraham play with Ishmael or when she wondered if Abraham loved her as much as she needed him to?

What if she could have been the kind of loving person that everyone trusted and turned to, who made things better just by being around?  When people drew a circle that shut her out, the kind of person who drew a big enough circle to include them anyway and draw them in?

As I was thinking about the generations of misunderstanding and sometimes outright hatred between the people groups descending from Sarah and Hagar, I wondered if all of this could have been avoided, if Sarah had had a larger vision and a more trusting heart.

And that thought leads me to wonder…where are my insecurities sabotaging opportunities around me?  How could I be a bigger person?  Less fearful? More trusting? More sensitive to the needs around me?

Is there a way I am being called to be bigger hearted?  And what does that look like today?  What will it look like tomorrow?

Is it possible that my decisions and reactions today will have a generational influence?  They seem so minor and yet…..

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