Understanding Joy And Grief On Mother’s Day

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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

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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

 

What Every Christian Should Know About Genesis 9-13

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We had another exciting week studying the stories of Genesis. We started in Genesis 8 and moved through Genesis 13.

In our first post, Stewardship, Politics, and Genesis 9, we looked at the complex commands that God gave to Noah and his descendants: “Be fruitful, multiply, and fill the Earth. All of the animals on the earth will fear you and dread you—all the birds in the skies, everything crawling on the ground, and all of the sea’s fish. They are in your power. Everything that lives and moves will be your food. Just as I gave you the green grasses, I now give you everything” (Gen. 9:1-3). We examined how people have stretched biblical texts to fulfill their own political purposes. We then identified how we can responsibly integrate the Bible into our own lives and worlds.

The following post, Subtle Reminders, looked at the covenant that God established with Noah after the flood. We discussed those moments we experience in creation that remind us of God’s love and promises. Genesis describes how the rainbow is a natural marker of God’s covenant with us, and one of the commentators pointed out that there is a rainbow every day in Hawaii. We can feel and witness God’s covenant with us in creation and in so many other ways every day.

Finding God At Babel allowed us to look at the story of Babel and see God protecting humanity, rather than fearing it. Often people interpret the story of the Tower of Babel to mean that God felt insecure about how wise and crafty humanity had become, which led to His decision to scatter their languages and locations. Reading the passage in context, however, we remember Genesis 8, when God promised to never destroy creation again. In an effort to hold true to his promise, God realized that we needed boundaries to prevent the sort of straying that had taken place before the Flood. We finished by naming our call to live out the full potential that God has placed within us, and celebrating God’s willingness to provide us with guidance and strength along the way.

Finally, in When our Heroes Let Us Down, we studied the story of Abraham: the one who we laud as our father, our patriarch, and who also made some grave mistakes. In both Genesis 12 and in Genesis 20, he instructs his wife to pretend she’s his sister in an effort to protect his own life. Abraham abandons Sarah to the Pharaoh and to King Abimelech, both of whom experience the impact of his lie and confront Abraham about it. Sarah then returns to Abraham, and in both scenarios Abraham leaves wealthier than ever before. Sometimes our heroes let us down. They fail to meet our expectations for how they should behave, and leave us wondering why they made the choices they did. In the midst of disappointment, the most constructive action we can take is to acknowledge our own shortcomings, request forgiveness from God and from others, and offer forgiveness as well.

We got into some gritty texts this week. In the coming week, we will start with Genesis 14 and move forward into even more complicated, trying, and fascinating texts. Out of these we will learn lessons about how we can live with greater peace and reconciliation with God and others.


peru urevu umelu — be fertile, multiply, and fill the earth; God’s command in Gen. 8

queshet — bow; used to signify a rainbow in Gen. 8

ra — evil, bad, mischievous; God’s description of people’s ideas in Gen. 8

balal — to confuse or mix up; what God does to the language at Babel in Gen. 11

When Our Heroes Let Us Down

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While hosting Saturday Night Live on March 12, pop star Ariana Grande sang a song in her opening monologue, entitled, “What Will My Scandal Be?” She describes how so many other celebrities and pop stars have had scandals in their careers, but she hasn’t had hers yet. It seems like at some point or another, the celebrities that we see on TV and hear on the radio behave poorly, and their mistakes then go viral.

This doesn’t only take place in the realm of pop music, though. Many of those who we admire, including pastors, politicians, and even whole organizations, eventually let us down.

In the text for today, we see one of the most beloved biblical characters behave in a more than questionable manner. And worse, he then repeats his mistake again. In Genesis 12, Abram and Sarai are in the land of Canaan when a famine strikes. They then traverse to Egypt to escape the famine, and upon arrival, Abram informs Sarai that when the Egyptians see how beautiful she is, they will kill him to take her. Abram instructs her to tell them she is his sister, so that he may live. And sure enough, when Pharaoh’s princes see how beautiful Sarai is, they take her to Pharaoh and give Abram a lot of animals and wealth as compensation.

We never hear Sarai’s voice in this text. Abram has just acted egregiously toward her, and yet we never hear her objections, and we never learn what happened to her while in Pharaoh’s household. Instead, the Lord acts on Sarai’s behalf. He strikes Pharaoh’s house with plagues, which then cause Pharaoh to realize that Sarai was actually Abram’s wife. He then chastises Abram, sends Sarai back to him, and expels them both from Egypt, along with all of the goods Abram acquired because of Sarai.

Abandoning his wife to Pharaoh made Abram very wealthy. This is one of those moments when one of my biblical heroes lets me down. I wonder how the beloved Abram could possibly treat his wife with such flippancy and irreverence. And I feel heartbroken for the beloved Sarai, who experienced abandonment by her husband, and then endured God knows what (literally) at the hands of Pharaoh. And while we may read this text and abhor Abram’s behavior, the lesson he should have learned didn’t stick.

When we arrive in Genesis 20, Abram (turned Abraham at this point) commits the exact same atrocity. Abraham and Sarah enter the land of Gerar; Abraham tells King Abimelech that Sarah is his sister, and Abimelech takes her to his house. The Lord intervenes in a dream, informing Abimelech that Sarah is Abraham’s wife. In this instance, we know that “Abimelech hadn’t gone near her” (v. 4). Abimelech confronts Abraham, gives him Sarah and a whole host of animals and wealth, and tells Abraham to dwell anywhere in his land.

We watch the exact same cycle happen again, and it doesn’t play out poorly for Abraham: he leaves with wealth and prosperity each time. 

Sometimes we have to raise our eyebrows at the behavior even of biblical characters. Abraham was so faithful to God in so many other circumstances, but in these two texts, his behavior disappoints God, his wife, and frankly, me as a reader.

These biblical figures lived complex lives. While we should honor them for all of the ways they were faithful to God and built up the faith that we now share, we also must recognize their humanness and flaws as well. 

The most redemptive part about messing up is the moment in which we choose never to make that mistake again. Abraham didn’t learn that lesson in these texts. In response, we must foster awareness of the ways that we can worship God more purely and truly, acknowledge our weaknesses and failures, and reconcile ourselves with those who feel the impact of our mistakes as well.

As the Lord’s Prayer says, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” Today, may we accept the forgiveness and grace of God, may we ask for forgiveness from others, and may we extend grace and love to those around us as well.