The Tragic Optimist

Bible Stories

I was at a church retreat this Saturday morning. Part of the morning was spent with a theology professor talking about leadership in the bible. At one point, he asks us to think about any bible stories that have resonated with us. The only one that I could think of was the story of Abraham and Sarah. Sarah was not able to conceive, and they were both quite old (99 and 89 years old, I think) when some angels arrived and told Abraham that Sarah would conceive. Sarah overheard this and started laughing. Of course, the angels heard it and told her not to laugh, and indeed she did later conceive Isaac.

There’s some pretty obvious reasons why the story resonates. But for one thing, for some reason it always comforted me to read old stories about women having trouble conceiving. Reading blogs about other women’s problems today is helpful, but somehow knowing that this was a problem that’s troubled couples throughout history made me feel less alone. Strange, because I’ve never really been a fan of history. The other part of the story that I love is Sarah laughing at the people (ok, angels) that say she’ll eventually conceive. In my mind, I can hear Sarah’s bitter laughter, “Yeah right, after all these years I’ll conceive, I bet you’ll tell me next that all we have to do is relax…” I may have said the same thing a time or two.

So back to the professor’s lecture, or not really, the talk wasn’t all that interesting so I thought I’d read the story. I’m not sure I’d ever actually read it, as opposed to hearing it retold. It’s starts at Genesis 16:1 when Sarah despairs at not being able to give her husband children and tells him to take her maid. The story has it all, despair, jealousy of another woman’s pregnancy, bitterness, eventual conception, but even after having a child, jealousy of other women with children

I find it both comforting and discomfiting at the same time. Comforting to know I’m not the only one to have those emotions. Discomfiting because those emotions can be so pretty ugly – the story was surprisingly hard for me to read.

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