“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?” Psalm 13:1-2
Sarah had had it. She was done. The promise of that long-awaited child had been nonsense, a joke, perhaps a figment of Abraham’s imagination.
For far too long, her “how long?” had only been met with silence and the steady aging of a finite frame.
So when the visitor brought it all up again, she laughed.
It was a cynical laugh, as dry and bitter as this childless life she’d been living for ninety years.
What else could she do?
Cynicism was safe, and when she compared it to God’s track record with this teasing of a son, cynicism could at least be trusted to provide what it promised: realistic expectations for this dusty, aching life.
“I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”
A son. Next year.
Hope jolted her for a split-second before the laugh spoke reality over the cruel fiction.
Who did this visitor think he was to stir things up again?
She couldn’t open her heart to hope one more time. If her hopes were dashed again, she would crumble right into the grave.
The older I get, the better I understand Sarah. Following Jesus truly is joy and meaning and life! Yet there is a tension between this eternal life Christ has saved me into and the current life on a dying earth where things are not what He meant them to be. Because although the longer I live the more I see the goodness and love of God, at the same time, my pain has become sharper, my questions bigger, and my desires deeper. There is a vivid history of God’s faithfulness in my life, but too often, instead of retelling that story, I look behind and despair that I haven’t received the things I’ve longed for or fully shed the chronic struggles that keep me small-minded and self-conscious.
There are so many “how longs” that test my faith in God’s goodness and love for me:
“How long, O Lord, will I feel this way?”
“How long, O Lord, will I struggle with this sin?”
“How long, O Lord, will I yearn for what you haven’t given me?”
And like Sarah, I’ve let the “how longs” scratch at my throat until all that comes out is a dry, cynical laugh.
When the “how longs,” consume me, I question His promises, desperate to understand:
“You say that if your child asks for bread, you won’t give him a rock, so why are my teeth cracked and my mouth full of grit?”
“If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” 2 Timothy 2:1
In the not-yet, with blurry human eyes, His promises may seem untrue.
But the beautiful thing is, the fulfillment of God’s promises is not dependent on our ability to grasp them. God did not take away his promise because Sarah laughed. Not only is he patient with our “how longs” and cynical laughs, but He still plans to fulfill His promises in a way that exceeds what we could imagine.
God not only gave Sarah the son she had longed for, but drew her into a story so much bigger than herself, making her the first woman in the line of Jesus Christ.
“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.” Ephesians 3:14-15
There’s a fascinating parallel between Sarah and followers of Jesus.
Sarah laughed even after God gave her a new name embedded with His promise. Sarai became Sarah because God wanted her name to mean “mother of nations.” But even with her identity heard each time someone spoke her name, she struggled to believe.
As Christ-followers, we’ve been given a new name, a family name, derived from the very name of the One who saved us, but we, like Sarah, still struggle to believe the promises embedded in this new identity. I’m finding that no matter how much evidence I see of God’s goodness, I still question, I still doubt, and I still cry, “how long?”
I want to be a woman who laughs at the future and not at God’s promises.
But in my heart of hearts, I want to be a woman who laughs at the future (Proverbs 31:25!) and not at God’s promises.
So I’m praying that I would believe the promises embedded in my new name more than I believe my human eyes.
That I would read the truth and speak the truth with conviction regardless of how I feel on a given day.
And that I would remember Sarah and take heart, knowing that God’s promises will be fulfilled in a way so much broader, sweeter, and more eternal than the ways I’ve cried for them to be.
Genesis 18: 1-15 (NIV, emphasis mine)
The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.
He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.”
“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”
So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”
Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.
“Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him.
“There, in the tent,” he said.
Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”
Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”
Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”
Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”
But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”
Genesis 21: 1-2
Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him.