when the promise waits

I grew up in a home so full of love and sweet memories.  And yet, like so many others of you have experienced, the darkness was there.  Early on, darkness invaded our home and although one of my siblings was horribly victimized, all of us fell victim in our own ways to that darkness.  All of us were affected, broken.  When someone you love just as much as your own flesh is suffering in horrendous pain, you suffer too.  You can’t be okay in some ways until they are okay.  Your healing waits for theirs.

And so the question of “why pain, why suffering,” the question the world wields like a certain sword to the existence of a good God, often has haunted me.  Although it has never pushed me away from God, I have always felt His understanding in my need to ask those questions.  And so graciously, sometimes in the quiet and over the years, He has given glimpses.  There will never be a satisfactory answer to that question, as centuries of men far wiser than me have sought and found it unanswered.  Some things you have to choose to believe even in the face of difficulty.  Some things you just have to surrender.

Last night we all went out for ice cream, my husband and our two kids and I.  All week, in my study time with the kids, we’ve been learning about Abraham and Sarah and how they waited for the child God had promised them.  As part of teaching our daughter about waiting for a promise to be fulfilled, I promised her at the beginning of the week an ice cream treat, but she would have to wait until the end of the week for it.  Every day we talked about it, I reminded her of my promise, that I would fulfill it.  And she learned to wait and to anticipate.  And so, last night, she got her chocolate ice cream, and her excitement was unparalleled.


And so my mind has been thinking over Abraham and Sarah and their story.  Maybe you’re familiar with it {Genesis 12-23}.  I imagine that early on in Abraham and Sarah’s marriage, they dreamed about children, as so many of us do.  Of course, the pressures of their society were entirely different than ours.  For them, children were essential.  A woman who was barren was worthless, and could easily be dismissed and divorced by her husband.  What’s worse, barrenness was seen as a sign of divine judgement.  It was essential for a family’s name to be passed down and for the family line to continue through sons.

For many years Abraham and Sarah would have longed for a child, tried for a child.  But one day, the window of opportunity would have begun to close on Sarah’s natural ability.  She would have known that, although she had hoped against hope, although she had told herself to stop hoping, now all hope surely was gone.  It was time to let this dream die, as her own womb grew silent and dormant forever.

And the years continued to pass.  Now the ache was still there, but the sting had lessened a bit.  She was an old woman now, and she had a husband who loved her enough to stay with her, even in this shame she had brought on him.  She had chosen to let this be enough.

(photo credit here)

And then, the word of the Lord came to Abram.  That night came when the Lord told Abram to count the stars if he was able.  So would his descendants be: innumerable {Gen. 15:1-6}.  And the incredulous hope began to stir again.  Descendants?  This means children.  But how can this be?  And Sarah, maybe in impatience for this promise, maybe because she simply couldn’t fathom the miracle God had planned, figured it must not be through her own body that God would do this work, but through her handmaiden.  And so she suggests Abraham father a child through her maid, Hagar.  Ishmael is born, Abraham’s first son.

But this was not God’s plan for the family He was planning to generate through Abraham.  He was going to begin through Abraham and Sarah the line of Israel, a people He had chosen for Himself, to set apart for Himself as His own special portion.  A family which would be inordinately blessed, upon which His favor would forever rest.  And this family line would begin with an undeniable, miraculous work of God, not the scheming and devising of man.

Then when Abram was 99 years old, the Lord appeared to him.  God changes Abram’s name to Abraham, Sarai’s name to Sarah.  And He reveals that His plan was for the family line to come through Abraham and Sarah, and that Ishmael was not the chosen son. He tells Abraham that Sarah will have a son, and they will name him Isaac {Gen. 17}.  And yet still, the promise waited.  Still some years passed before this son Isaac was conceived in Sarah’s womb.

Why was this God’s way?  Why does the promise wait?

It isn’t what comes easily to us, what comes in abundance to us, that we treasure.  It’s what we have to fight for, what we have to long for, what we have to work for, what is rare, that we most treasure and appreciate.  Our dependency, our helplessness to secure it for ourselves — this makes us all the more aware of what a treasure it is when it comes.

It’s how we see.  When we see things as widely available, or easily attainable, we are often careless with it.  But when it’s hard to come by, we are careful with it.  We hold it close.  We enjoy it more.

When a snow storm is predicted in NC, where I live, the aisles at the grocery store are completely emptied of bread and milk.  Suddenly we perceive the value of having enough food when the threat comes that we may not easily be able to get to the store.

We see it with money.  When we have enough, we spend easily and carelessly.  When we know we don’t have enough, suddenly every expense is calculated and measured.  We are thankful for anything we can afford to feed our family, instead of worrying about whether it’s organic or locally sourced.  Suddenly the priorities change and the thanks increase for whatever we have.

We see it in a culture of abortion.  Children?  An inconvenience, easy to come by when I am ready.  Easy to dispose of when I’m not.

When my husband and I had our first daughter, the pregnancy came as as surprise and went along easily.  She was born in six hours and without any complications.  I cannot even begin to tell you the explosion of joy it was to have her and to hold her for the first time.  It’s unlike anything I had ever experienced before.  It’s indescribable.

But I think about Sarah.  What was her joy like?  I can’t measure it, but I imagine that it was infinitely greater than mine.

See, there’s an innocent joy that I experienced when my daughter was born, the joy unmixed with sorrow.  An innocent, untried joy.  A beautiful kind of joy.  But the joy that Sarah had?  The joy that comes after waiting and longing for probably 60-80 years to be a mother?  And then at nearly 100 years old, to hold her first child.  Her miracle child.  Her divine child.

And it makes me think.  God gave me the gift of a child when I had a firstborn, and of course, joy.  But for someone who has waited, for someone like Sarah, God gave the gift AND the fullest measure of joy possible along with the gift.  The greatest gift, with inestimable value in and of itself, along with the greatest possible ability to receive and enjoy the preciousness of the gift.

God stirred up their longing for a child, a longing they had surrendered, and then allowed more waiting and disappointment.  We see this and think God mean, manipulative.  A loving parent would give the desired gift immediately, we think.  But what if a parent who is perfect in love, who is full of light and in Him is no darkness whatsoever, no hint of malevolence–what if He deferred hope so that He could fulfill it with greater joy?

Abraham and Sarah grasped the weight of it.  The heaviness of glory in the miraculous holding of their very own child, their very own flesh and blood, in their wrinkled, aged hands.

Thus, Isaac.. “the son of laughter” or “he will laugh.”

The son of immeasurable joy.

And so maybe this is why sometimes, the promise waits.  Maybe this is why there are the years and years of praying for the lost family member, the prodigal child, the infertility, the healing of a disease.  Sometimes we know, in God’s higher ways that are beyond our conceiving, His most loving answer is “No.”  But sometimes, He waits so that when the “yes” comes, our joy is beyond the ordinary joy.  So that we treasure that “yes” to fullest measure.