Understanding Joy And Grief On Mother’s Day

pregnant

This Sunday, May 8th, is Mother’s Day. Over the past few weeks, I have gathered cards and gifts for the mothers, grandmothers, and godmothers who I love so much. I look forward to spending the day celebrating the amazing women who have been my caregivers and role models throughout my life.

While Mother’s Day is a beautiful day of celebration for so many women, I can also think of the faces of many women who struggle on Mother’s Day. From women who want to be mothers, but struggle with infertility or who have lost a child, to women who may be facing another Mother’s Day after having lost their own mom. Mother’s Day is a complex day to feel joy for the moms we have in our lives, and also to recognize the struggle, sacrifice, and often grief that accompanies motherhood as well.

In Genesis 21, we meet two very different mothers facing very different circumstances. Back in Genesis 16, we saw the first fruits of conflict between Sarai and Hagar (read: When God Meets Us In Our Grief). We start with Sarah, who gives birth to Isaac and laughs that she has birthed a son at such an old age. God has fulfilled His promise to her, and she now has a healthy baby after years and years of barrenness. We see the blessing and joy of motherhood in the person of Sarah.

Shortly thereafter, in verses 8-21, we learn that Hagar’s son, Ishmael, laughed (presumably at Sarah), and offended her deeply. Sarah then instructs Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael into the wilderness.

To Abraham’s credit, he takes the matter to God. God tells Abraham to follow Sarah’s instructions, and promises to care for Hagar and Ishamael in the wilderness. So Abraham gives Hagar a bit of bread and water, and sends her and Ishamael away. After wandering for some time, she runs out of food and water, and believes that Ishmael is going to die, so she sets him under a bush because she’s too grieved to watch. Hagar cries out to God, and God comes to meet her. In the midst of her grief, God offers her comfort, a well, and the promise of His faithful presence with her and her son throughout the rest of their lives.

Hagar experiences a different type of motherhood than Sarah. For the second time, Hagar found herself in the wilderness with a child (once in her womb, once in a sling she carried), wondering how she would ever survive her circumstances, let alone save her child. Motherhood causes her pain and suffering, and I think that’s perhaps why God meets her so often and in such a personal way.

Motherhood is a sacred gift. We are meant to treasure the mothers in our lives, and the precious roles we play as parents, grandparents, aunts, godmothers, and friends. As we approach this Mother’s Day, may we feel gratitude, joy, and love for those influential women in our lives, and may we also be cognizant of those who may carry a heavier burden on that day. Whether you identify more with Sarah or Hagar, may you know that you are loved and appreciated as a beautiful, strong woman of God. And may we all remember that God promised both Sarah and Hagar that He would never leave them nor forsake them, especially in their moments of greatest struggle and greatest joy.

What Every Christian Should Know About Genesis 13-18

book image

This week we covered the beginnings of Abraham and Sarah’s story, and took in some of the lessons that these incredible biblical texts have to offer. If you missed a few of the posts, but want to keep up with us, here is a synopsis of each of the lessons:

In Waiting on God, we looked at the role of Abram in Genesis 15 and 16. We saw how God went out of His way in chapter 15 to reassure Abram that he would have an heir and a great nation. However, in the following chapter, we watched Abram take the situation into his own hands by hastily impregnating Sarai’s servant, Hagar, in an attempt to bring about God’s promises. We discussed how difficult it can be to wait on God, especially when the stakes are so high, and found encouragement to have patience when waiting for God to fulfill His promises.

We then looked at the story of Hagar in When God Meets Us In Our Grief. We watched as tension grew between Sarai and Hagar, her servant whom Abram impregnated. As a result, Sarai treated Hagar so harshly that she ran away into the desert. While this pregnant, homeless slave mourned her mistreatment, God appeared to her to offer comfort. He asked, “Hagar, where do you come from and where are you going?” and as He sat with her, He named her son “God hears” (yishmael) and Hagar named God, “God sees” (El Roi). We marveled at God’s ability to show up for us in our most vulnerable and lost moments as well.

The following day we watched as God created a covenant with Abram in Covenant and Calling. We saw how God created the covenantal relationship with Abram, changing his name to Abraham and Sarai’s to Sarah. Just after God established His covenant with Abraham, God then began growing the vision for how their relationship would change the world. We discussed what it means for our relationship with God to not only transform our own lives, but also the world around us.

Finally, in When God Answers Prayer, we looked at Genesis 18, when God and two other men appeared to Abraham and they began discussing the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. We watched Abraham slowly talk God down from His plan to destroy the land. We then considered how our prayers impact the heart of God, acknowledging that God said in Genesis 18 that he hears cries of injustice. We defined prayer as communing with God, and emphasized how important it is to converse with God about how we are feeling and what we are experiencing.

In the coming week we will start in Genesis 19, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, which people have used in both helpful and very harmful ways throughout history. We will move forward from there. Thank you for joining me on this journey!


For those of you keeping up with our Hebrew study, here are the vocabulary words for this week:

avram — exalted father, also the name of Abram

avraham — father of a multitude, also the name of Abraham

saray — princess, also the name of Sarai

sarah — noblewoman, also the name of Sarah

hagar — the stranger, also the name of Hagar

ishah — wife, Hagar becomes a second-tier wife to Abram

yishmael — God hears, also the name if Ishamel

El Roi — God sees, or God who sees, what Hagar names God in the wilderness

 

When God Meets Us In Our Grief

grief image

Yesterday, in the post Waiting On God, we looked at Genesis 15, in which God informs Abram very clearly that Abram will have an heir that will develop into a very large nation. We discussed Abram’s subsequent decision in Genesis 16 to take his wife’s servant, Hagar, and impregnate her, in an effort to bring about the promise God made to him.

Today I want us to focus on Hagar. People often have a very negative view of Hagar, regarding her as the subpar-Sarai who birthed the “wrong son.” If we look closer at the life of Hagar, though, we see a far different picture.

At the beginning of Genesis 16, we learn that Sarai is unable to have children, so she instructs Abram to take her servant, Hagar, and see if she will provide him children. I should note here that having a servant bear children on behalf of a couple was not abnormal at the time; in fact, we see the same scenario with Jacob, Rachel, and Rachel’s servant Bilhah in Genesis 30. Abram also takes Hagar as his “wife” (ishah), which was common as well. Sarai then remains the principal wife, and Hagar becomes a second-tier wife.

Abram impregnates Hagar, and we learn that Hagar begins snubbing or “no longer respecting” Sarai. Sarai confronts Abram about Hagar’s behavior, and Abram tells her to treat Hagar however she wishes. And this is where the text gets violent: Sarai acts so harshly toward Hagar that Hagar runs away, into the desert.

Imagine that: Hagar is a pregnant servant with nowhere to go, and Sarai treats her so harshly that she decides running away into the wilderness is safer than staying in her home. Her treatment was that unbearable.

And then, when Hagar is as lost and abandoned as she’s ever been, God shows up. “Hagar! Sarai’s servant! Where did you come from and where are you going?” The Lord visits her and asks the questions that all of us need to ponder when we’re feeling lost and afraid: Where did you come from? Where are you going?

She explains her predicament, and God tells her to return to Sarai’s house, promising to give her innumerable heirs.

God then discusses Ishmael. He says, “You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son. You will name him Ishmael because the Lord has heard about your harsh treatment.” The name Ishamel (yishmael) means “God hears.” It’s as though Ishmael, who God describes as being “a wild mule of a man,” will also testify to God’s witness of Hagar’s harsh treatment simply with his name. The trials of Hagar will never be forgotten, so long as Ishmael’s name is known.

Hagar then calls God “El Roi,” meaning “God who sees” or “God whom I’ve seen.” Frankly, both translations work: God saw her torment and struggle, and Hagar also saw God while in the wilderness. She then returns to Sarai and Abram, and births Ishmael.

I don’t know why we so often brush over this story. The encounter between Hagar, a lower class servant who is hurt and afraid, and God happens in such an intimate and powerful way. God sees and hears her pain, witnesses all of it, and in the end extends promises and hope to her while she is lost in the wilderness. 

God finds Hagar, the lowly servant of Abram and Sarai, in the midst of her deepest moments of pain and sorrow, which gives us hope that God can find us as well. God doesn’t only care for those with status, fame, perfection, and chosenness — God cares for all of us. He witnesses our struggles and frustration, knows when others treat us harshly, and is willing to sit with us when we’re hurting.

So may we turn to God today. May we bring our burdens before Him, knowing that He already sees them and hears them. May we know that God is powerful enough and compassionate enough to hold all of sadness and grief. And may we let Him sit with us today.