May 13, 2018

Where is Your Family?

“Where is your family?”

My blond-headed nephew’s three-year-old voice cut sharp and innocent. It was the same question a harried wedding photographer had shouted out to me three days before on the lawn of the pristine church where she was herding my parents, siblings, and the eleven grandchildren into family bunches around my youngest sister, the glowing bride. I think I just shook my head, but maybe I mumbled, “I don’t have one.” And then I took a few deep water bottle swigs—an excuse to close my eyes just long enough for the stinging tears to dissipate before they fell and brought any dark tinge onto my dear sister’s day. My sister who is sixteen years younger than me.

But my nephew, in his car seat, waiting with me for his mom to come back out of the store, is too little to be hurt by seeing my tears. And so he saw them. 

In truth, I don’t really have power over tears. I was given grace on the lawn, that’s why they dissipated. The photographer backpedaled when she realized she’d probably called out the most painful question she could have (not just to me, but in front of the thirty onlookers watching the picture process). She rushed to say something about the entire group being my family and herded me to stand next to the bride, right in the middle of the shot.

It was one of those terribly beautiful days where you get to lay down your heart at the feet of Jesus, whisper that you trust Him, and venture out to rejoice that another person is receiving the thing you’ve always asked for. Not too long afterward, I turned forty.

That same sister is now pregnant with their second child, and I am skipping church on Mother’s Day. Not because I’m ashamed or there’s anything wrong with tears; I’m just unwilling this year to be exposed again by them in front of the congregation. The church is too large to know everyone, and why should the semi-strangers in my row see my most intimate wound? In front of God, however, I’m always ready to split my heart open—because He is safe, and kind, and can do something about it—so I watch the service online and He speaks.

The preacher’s sweet honoring of women, speaking of Ruth and Mary and Rachel, turns profoundly insightful when he gets to Hannah. Hannah somehow knew she was not simply longing for the fulfillment of her personal womanly desire for children—she was interceding for a birth that would pivot the entire nation of God and usher in of the age of kings. Her son, the last judge of Israel, was to anoint the great King David, initiating the messianic line that will culminate in the perfect Man ruling a perfect world throughout the perfect years of eternity. Perhaps she didn’t know these details, but her heart felt them—this desire, this need of a son, was not just for her own sake. It was for the whole world’s. It was that important.

Am I overstepping my place (after all, I am simply one among tens of thousands) to say that my longing feels like this? Are you? To us it seems less like a whine to get the dessert we want tonight, and more like an epic battle that determines destinies. These woman-arms are wrestling, using power beyond their natural ability, to bring the glory of God onto visible earth. I feel like Jacob, wrestling God over what God had already promised.

My father liked to hide a penny in his fist and let my sister and I try to pry his fingers open to get it. In the end we never had the strength, but he always gave the penny. Those struggles were delightful but didn’t ruffle my heart—even at the age of four I knew a penny would buy me nothing. I simply loved wrestling his fingers. But some wrestles aren’t for nothing, nor for the simple joy of touch. They are for something very important. Something beyond ourselves.

It strikes me that the intensity of Hannah’s pain was commensurate with the expansive destiny of the son she prayed for. Are the most difficult, hard-fought, pain-endured areas of our lives that way because they will be the most fruitful, eternal, and life-expanding gifts to not only ourselves but the whole kingdom of God? We aren’t wrestling for a penny with no buying power. Our hearts are troubled, wincing, and calling on every reserve of strength to win this—because we are wrestling for the glory of the glorious God to outshine all the nay-saying, doubting, fear-mongering, destiny-surrendering words the world has surrounded our lives with.

My husband may not be the next president nor my sons usher in the return of the King, but that marriage and those births will be epic releases of the glory of God and explosive proclamations of His faithful nature. You and I may not be Hannah, yet we are. Not only because every baby is worth the whole world, but because the real God’s real glory is worth spending a life on.

Don’t let go of His promises, whatever they may be, and don’t lay down your birthright out of hopelessness. When you must weep, weep with the power of a queen appealing to her king, of a Hannah interceding for her messiah’s birthline. In the end, His promises and your birthright are more about Him than you. The birth of your ‘Samuel’ will lift Jesus’ name high, for every promise kept by God is a display of His true nature. It is that important.