Sarah (Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-6)
It’s the word that has defined me for most of my life. Barren, like the desert; barren, like the Salt Sea*; barren, like the grave.
How do I explain what it is to walk through life carrying that label? How do I explain what it feels like to watch other women’s bellies grow large with child; to see them cradle their newborns; to see their heart full to bursting?
In the early years it felt like a knife, piercing my heart. As the months and years have passed and no child has come, the pain has changed. It is now a dull ache that never seems to fade; an ache that reminds me continually of who I am. I am Sarai, the barren one; the cursed one; the nothing one.
At least that’s who I thought I was.
It’s a strange thing to suddenly have all you know about yourself stripped away. Even when the things you have always known have been a source of pain.
I knew who Sarai the barren was. I knew how she felt, how she behaved. I knew Sarai the barren could seem cold and distant; but it was only to hide the deep pain I felt inside. I knew Sarai the barren could seem harsh; but it was only to keep my heart from breaking again. I knew Sarai the barren could seem blasphemous, as she laughed in the face of God as God promised her a child; but it was only because if I didn’t laugh, I’d cry. Because no matter how many times the child was promised, no matter how many times I heard, “God is going to bless us! God is going to give us a child!” it never came to be. So I laughed, because I was tired of crying.
But who’s laughing now? Because Sarai the barren, is now Sarah the matriarch.
Like I said, I knew how to be Sarai the barren; I’m learning how to be Sarah the matriarch.
It’s a slow process, like the blooming of the desert flowers after the rains. In the beginning, as my belly swelled, fear clutched my heart. My pregnancy was not one of overwhelming joy like I’ve seen it be for other women. I was happy, and I was terrified. Sarai the barren had had her heart broken too many times to let herself go too far down the path of joy. No, it was safer, I thought, to keep myself locked away, to not get too excited or too joyful even as the child grew within me.
And then he came. My beautiful son. And God gave him a name that has sunk deep into my heart; a name that is helping turn Sarai the barren into Sarah the matriarch. God named him Isaac, laughter.
I laughed that day, when God told us we were going to have a child. I laughed because if I didn’t laugh I’d cry. And now, my laughter and tears mingle as I look into the precious face of my laughter, my son, my Isaac. His name reminds me of who I was, and who I am becoming.
Somedays I am still Sarai the barren, because some pain never fully goes away. And yet, more often than not these days, I am Sarah the matriarch. I am learning what it is to find joy; to smile, to laugh.
I am Sarah the matriarch; the blessed one; the fulfilled one; because I was first Sarai, the barren one.
Questions to ponder
What was your favorite part of the story?
Where did you see God in the story?
What is God inviting you to try on today in light of the story?
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*Salt Sea is one of the ancient names for the Dead Sea