Two women with similar stories. Two women with different responses.
In the Bible, there are a few stories of women who have been labelled as "barren". That's how they are introduced to us. There's Sarai (changed to Sarah), wife of Abram (changed to Abraham), who "was barren; she had no child" (Genesis 11:30). Notice how in the one sentence we are informed twice of her label, just in case we missed the point. This obviously makes the miracle of God's provision of Abraham's heir through his wife even more amazing.
But for a while, my focus hasn't been on Sarah, nor on Elizabeth - who bore John the Baptist - both of whom are the names of women people have mentioned to me when they are encouraging me.
I have been studying Rachel and Hannah. Two women from different points in history, who have a similar story, but who respond in very different ways.
Rachel. The wife of Abraham's grandson, Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel after he wrestled with God). Rachel, who was so loved by Jacob that he worked for her father, his uncle, for an agreed period of seven years, but was duped "at the altar" into marrying Rachel's older sister, Leah. He loved Rachel so much, that he agreed to work for a longer period in order to have her as his wife too.
Rachel, the beautiful younger sister, younger wife, "but Rachel was barren" (Genesis 29:31). Not only did she face the monthly struggle to deal with another failed attempt to conceive, but her sister was producing heirs regularly, causing a bitter rivalry between the sisters, and deep envy and resentment within Rachel. One was loved. One could bear children.
In those days, barrenness was the worse "illness" any woman could be dealt in life. If a woman couldn't conceive, that was enough for her husband to divorce her. She was expected to produce an heir for her husband. This is why we see Rachel, as her Grandmother-in-Law before her, in her desperation to bear a child for Jacob, offering her maidservant to her husband as a surrogate for her inability to conceive.
We catch a glimpse of Rachel's desperation in Genesis 30:1 when she cries out to her husband, "Give me children, or else I die!" It's not until you have experienced the struggle to conceive a child do you fully appreciate Rachel's deep cry. Sometimes, when the verse is read out, it is spoken as if in normal conversation, but I imagine Rachel allowing the words to burst from her heart through her mouth in a moment of an impassioned plea, with tears spilling down her cheeks... "Give me children, or else I feel I have nothing else to live for - I have no future, no purpose - I would rather be dead"... her anguished sobs bouncing around the walls of their room as Jacob tries to comfort his wife, and another monthly period begins... "I want to be a mother above everything else, give me children!" Her animal-like wail reverberating throughout history, caressing the heart of every women who understands Rachel's pain and anguish.
It's almost accusatory, her challenge to Jacob. It's almost as if she has allowed herself to believe he is with-holding from her and only giving his seed to her sister. You hear it in her words, "YOU, my husband, give me children too". He becomes angry - which I see as a sign of his helplessness at her situation. He knows her frustration, but knows he cannot replace God in her circumstances. He knows he is helpless against the Creator God Whom he once wrestled, "Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?" He responds.
A woman loved by her husband in spite of her struggle to bear him a child.
A women who railed against her husband.
Then a few centuries later, we meet Hannah. The wife of a man called Elkanah, who was so loved by him, she would receive double portions of the offerings, "but Hannah had no children" (1 Samuel 1:2).
Hannah, like Rachel, was one of two wives to the same husband. Hannah, like Rachel, was barren. Hannah, like Rachel, was taunted by the other wife. We don't know much about Peninnah except that she had children, and she "provoked [Hannah] severely to make her miserable... year by year, when she went up to the House of the Lord" (1 Samuel 1:6-7).
Hannah was so heartbroken by her own sorrow and distress, coupled with the derision of "her rival" that Hannah was no longer able to eat. She was suffering so much every month, that I believe depression (bitterness of soul - verse 10) literally seized her at the hopeless beginning of another cycle each month, that Hannah couldn't do anything to contain her grief. She couldn't eat. She could only cry - weeping, mourning in deep despair and anguish.
Again, it is not until you are in this situation every single month, where you feel a grief for what you have lost, the chance to conceive - gone... again, the failed attempt to have a baby, the painful waiting process before your period has started again. When you endure this cycle month in, month out, year after year, you realise how each month a woman, like Hannah, grieves at what she has not been able to bear. Each precious egg which falls away, dying with the wasted opportunity of a precious life.
In these two stories, I can see how important it is for us, as women, to have the freedom to mourn our circumstances. It's OK.
In both of these women's lives, we see how God "opened up their wombs". This shows me that it's OK for us to share our fears and sadness with our husbands, but not to blame them. To seek comfort from them, but not to put them in the place of God. They may not always understand what we are going through, but God does. This is why, I believe, He has introduced us to women like Rachel and Hannah in His Word, the Bible. Because He understands our sorrow. He understands our grief. He understands us.
We are different, but maybe we are in a similar situation in our separate Journey's for our Bubbas. But I hope, like me, you find comfort in knowing that God sees our situation as being so important, He allowed us to find women in His Word who we can identify with. I pray that 2013 will bring a change to the Journey you are on. And I don't say that lightly. Whether it is a change in who we turn to, or a physical change in the joy of finding the journey itself has become what we are hoping for, on;y God knows. But I pray you will know His blessings in your life, as I seek His blessings in my own life.
Shalom in Jesus for 2013!
- Bubba's Hopeful Mumma
- Hi. Welcome to my "taboo" blog. My name is Steph, and when I first started this, I was still in my thirties. In 2017, I switch decades! I am a Christian, so underlying everything I do and say is the Word of God, and the foundational truths I have learnt over the years. This doesn't mean I'm perfect - I am human. It just means I recognise I need God's help to live this life and try to live out His way, as best I can. So that's me in a nutshell. Thanks for taking the time to read through my blog, I hope you draw strength, hope or encouragement from what you read.