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Posts Tagged ‘barrenness’

Art by Luba Lukova

Art by Luba Lukova

Rachel and Leah, coming from a culture in which the role of women was clearly defined, needed children to show their worth. It was their children that gave them place in their small world. And yet, Leah wanted that one other thing, that intangible thing called love.

Genesis 30:19-20
Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son. Then Leah said, “God has presented me with a precious gift. This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons.”

Leah’s resources were few: she was not the beauty like her sister, she was the oldest and she was married by her father’s trickery. She was, if anything, an embarrassment. She had already born four sons and still, her husband favored Rachel. How could that be? Rachel was barren and yet Jacob loved her.

When Leah’s womb stopped bearing children, she must have been devastated. More than likely, Jacob limited his time wither her sexually as well. She had been more of a production machine. He appreciated the growth in his family and community, no doubt, but not for love. Even when the sisters gave him their maidservants, these arrangements were all about fruitfulness, not love. Jacob had been entranced by Rachel from the beginning. He was fixed on her and nothing Leah could do to change that. And yet she kept trying.

Leah is like so many young women today who mold themselves by the reflection they see in the eyes of men. Women often go to great extremes to create a picture of beauty they imagine men want to see. They craft their public personas to be appealing. They read magazines and books, take surveys and spend great amounts of money on surface improvements, to attract the male. Women do all they can to appear younger as long as possible since society has nurtured the idea that older women are no longer sexy or appealing. In the eyes of many men, women have two stages: young and seductive or motherly and caregiving.

How often are marriages destroyed by a man’s lust for someone younger, suppler, and carefree?

But I say only this. We cannot make any of them love us.

God commands us to love unconditionally. There is no promise of reciprocity. There is no promise of reward.

Some claim that it is most difficult to love our enemies. But I say, it is most difficult to love someone who has stopped loving us.

In this place, resentments are always at the edges of every conversation; disappointment waves like a flag for attention; togetherness feels like aloneness.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.Love never fails. [I Corinthians 13:4-8a]

God loved me in this way. God loved me before I loved back. God would not “make me” love. God loved. And over time, consistency and faithfulness won. Only, through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, can I love in this way. Only the Christ within can love like that.

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In this story of Abraham, Abimelech (King of Gerar), and Sarah, her husband called her “sister” to protect their household. But that protection meant being taken by Abimelech and placed in his harem of women. Her safety was exchanged for the many. But not until the end of the story are we told what drove her redemption: barrenness.

Genesis 20:17-18
Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, his wife and his slave girls so they could have children again, for the Lord had closed up every womb in Abimelech’s household because of Abraham’s wife Sarah. [NIV 1984]

God opens and closes wombs. Whether it was back then or now.

I am always intrigued by the real time that takes place within the space of a single sentence in the scripture. In order for Abimelech’s household to know that none of the women could bear children, some time had to pass by. Perhaps their monthly menstruation stopped or women who had been fruitful and continually pregnant, suddenly were not. In any case, it was not a day or a week but more like a year or more that Sarah languished amid the Philistines of that part of the Negev. Which is another reason why the story specifies that the King had not touched Sarah, a surprise, considering how long she had been among them.

In my imagination, when the King’s household discovers their barrenness, they beseech their gods and they beseech their leader to seek healing, to seek an answer, to seek a solution. In this way, it makes sense to me that Abimelech was open to hearing the voice of God in his dream. I believe his seeking was authentic. And when a person seeks from the heart, God answers.

Another interesting side note is that Sarah herself was barren. Did she reveal this fact to the other women? Undoubtedly, since the most important role of women in those days was producing children, and in particular, producing sons. Perhaps they mocked her. That would be my conjecture and yet I could see God responding to Sarah’s lament as well. That they might experience her sorrow of childlessness.

Sometimes, it takes a physical situation to wake us up. When my husband I married thirty years ago, the last thing we expected was to experience barrenness and childlessness. How could that be? We were both believers and committed to our marriage. We were faithful in things of God. And yet, we had no children for eight years. And only then did we seek adoption as a way to build a family.

And yet, despite our confidence that God was in this process, we still had people who asked if we still believed that God would give us our “own” children. Another woman told me I was probably too selfish to have children. Another said it was a curse and we should seek forgiveness for the unspoken sins in our lives. We felt the judgment of well-meaning Christians in our midst.

Our barrenness drove us to God and God’s answer was not pregnancy in the traditional sense. From this experience forward, I have been clear that we, as humans, limit God every day with our interpretation of what God’s “answers” should be or look like. And not only that, but the time it takes for the plan to unfold.

And so, for any women who sorrow over their closed wombs, I offer this one advice: accept what is today and move on so that God can bring forth the next thing. As long as we hold to our way, no other path can be revealed. Every closed womb still holds the Spirit and that is a seed for all generations.

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Empty Room by Tom Burke

Believing in a future is part of the faith package. We can’t know what that future will actually hold for us, but that does not preclude us from embracing all the possibilities. So much of tomorrow hinges on today.

Philemon 20
And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.

Paul believed he would be cut loose from prison. He asked his friends and his followers to believe the same thing, despite the circumstances.

I can function fairly well in this part of the equation, but I’m not so good when that future I had prayed about, asked for and even envisioned, doesn’t happen. I am disappointed. This is a trap for me.

Intellectually, I understand what it should be. I can preach about it and I can teach about. I can offer all kinds of advice, quotations, and scripture references. Honest, I get it. But the reality of living the other answer is not always my best day.

Instead of disappointment, when the alternate future presents itself, I need to joyfully envelop it and give thanks because God, all sovereign, heard my prayer and took my future onto a different way. When I don’t get “out of prison,” when I don’t get the job, when my kid doesn’t go to college, when my project is not accepted, when . . . when . . . when, it’s no less intentional from the God perspective.

I’m reading a book by Steven Furtick called Sun Stand Still. He’s a young, exuberant pastor from Charlotte, North Carolina, who planted a church that grew into the thousands in a very short time. He’s all about audacious prayers and expecting God to do impossible things. He has seen such prayers answered every day. His faith is infectious. He challenges his church to do the same, like Paul, he says, “do as I do, believe as I believe, trust as I trust.”

Have a I become too jaded in my walk to drum up this kind of enthusiasm? I don’t know. It’s not that I don’t believe God can do great and wondrous acts. God can and does. But I want to be able to walk on through despite the outcomes. I want to have a faith that isn’t wrapped around the answers. Because, quite honestly, my requests are not always in the best interests of the whole picture; I know that instinctively. I can only dream my dream and put my desires out there. But I could be way off.

When I was younger and went through those terrible years of barrenness, I came to a peace when I accepted the reality of my body. It was no less God’s plan and, in the end, we built a family through adoption, three kids who didn’t know that God had prepared a room for them here.

Everything is connected, every dream, every future, every room. Keep me mindful Lord, when I step into the room prepared for me today, that I don’t forsake it just because it’s not painted the color I had imagined or it’s not furnished with the expected furniture or populated by certain people.

Help me dream and even dream big still, but help me engage in today fully as well. Today is part of yesterday’s dream.

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