Welcome to the first in my Advent series. (Trigger warning: infertility).
Well, wouldn’t you?
I was so tired of words and empty promises while my womb was still painfully empty, and my arms held no child.
In the beginning, when God first told Abraham that we were to have this huge family, I was excited. Daunted, but excited. I could cope with four. Seven, twelve, twenty would be more of a challenge, but I was ready for it all. We had heard God, and we would step up to the challenge.
And even in those early days, I was dying to have a baby. All I have ever wanted is to nurture a child, shape another life. So in those first few months, I hoped: each month, I focused on any feeling of nausea, any unusual sensation in my body. I observed carefully all my friends who were all having babies around me, left, right and centre, and listened to their stories. As my childhood friends all got pregnant, one after another, I waited for my story to follow theirs. But it didn’t.
Each month, I bled, and told myself not to be disappointed: it would happen next month. Then the months went on, and I wondered if we had heard right. Maybe Abraham was mistaken. Then I wondered if it was my fault, if I had done something wrong, and was being punished. I racked my brain for things I might have done, and prayed long prayers of blanket repentance.
Of course, after a while, everyone had an explanation for why it wasn’t happening. I was given potions, bizarre techniques, told to abandon YHWH, and start worshipping a fertility god like any normal person. (Maybe we had made a mistake? Maybe YHWH wasn’t real – maybe we should throw our lot in with the fertility gods? After all, if God couldn’t even give us a baby, this one promise He had made us, there didn’t seem much point in forever traipsing around the countryside searching for a home.)
I can’t remember the exact time when I gave up hope. I hung on for a good few years. Then I got mad at God. Then I stopped being mad at God. And every month, we had the relentless rhythm of hope, disappointment; hope, disappointment; hope, disappointment.
Eventually, I disciplined myself to stop thinking about it. I began to accept it wasn’t going to happen.
I tried to understand. He hadn’t meant me to be pregnant, after all. We’d misunderstood God’s purpose. We’d do it through Hagar.
And really, I thought I’d be okay about it – by then, I’d made my peace with infertility. I had friends, nephews and nieces. It wasn’t like I’d be alone. But then – her – having the very thing I had wanted, and Abraham looking all proud and pleased… I couldn’t even bear to look at her.
Every time she held that child in her arms I thought of the child that should be in my arms, the child I was promised. God had lied to me.
So when I overheard the messengers from the Lord saying with such blasé confidence, “Oh, she’ll have a baby next year”, I laughed. Standing there, in the tent, flour on my hands, I felt a white rage pushing up in my chest. There used to be a time where a comment like that would have floored me, left me reeling for days, sobbing and crying at the broken promises. But I was beyond that now.
I laughed, but I wanted to punch someone. I wanted to say to God’s messenger, ’You have a pretty sick sense of humour. It has been too long. It’s over. You can’t just keep promising things when we both know it is never going to happen. Stop lying to me.”
And then – the messenger beckoned me over, and looked at me in the eyes. I felt like a small child before him: there was something about his demeanour that reminded me of my mother – a gentleness, deep love and power. And in his presence, my anger fell away, and I had a peculiar sense of being utterly known. I felt spiritually undressed.
He gave the smallest of smiles to me, and turned to Abraham,
“Why did Sarah laugh?… Is anything too hard for the Lord?”
I felt myself wanting to cry, and not knowing why. He knew me. He knew what I was thinking. I had nowhere to hide.
And then the thought came to me: “What if it really is it this time? Just minutes before I had been hating him, resenting him, defying him, quietly and privately. What if he is actually on the point of giving us a baby, and I’ve ruined it, because I couldn’t wait any longer?”
I was suddenly afraid, where I hadn’t been afraid before. I was afraid of losing something, even though I didn’t yet have it.
So I lied.
(Well, wouldn’t you?)
“No, I didn’t laugh,” I said. I said it with as much bravado as I could muster, but he had transformed this old lady into an eight-year-old girl again, stealing raisin cakes from my mother.
“Yes, you did laugh,” he said, and I saw love in his eyes, and I wanted to weep.
Advent is all about waiting: for Christ’s incarnation, and Christ’s return. This Advent, I am meditating on those in the Bible who had to wait. The four weeks of Advent traditionally focus on the Patriarchs, the Prophets, John the Baptist, and finally Mary, so I am writing a dramatic monologue for a Bible character, following that pattern. Thanks to Paula Gooder for introducing me to the structure through her Advent book, and to Mark Ashton for a very good sermon on Sarah in Genesis 18.
Further reading: Genesis 18
“Even in those early days, I was dying to have a baby.” NEW series by @tanya_marlow: Those Who Wait – Sarah’s story:
“I laughed, but I wanted to punch someone.” NEW Advent series by @tanya_marlow: Those Who Wait – Sarah’s story:
“I felt myself wanting to cry, not knowing why.” NEW Advent series by @tanya_marlow: Those Who Wait – Sarah’s story:
Over to you:
- Have you ever felt like Sarah, like God has a sick sense of humour and you can’t wait any longer?
- “I laughed.” “I lied.” – when has your reaction to a difficult situation been like Sarah’s?