Column – A mother who God saw
Published 3:48 pm Friday, May 19, 2023
What’s one of the biggest things you can think of that you’ve ever changed your mind about? Think back to something truly big that you thought you knew you wanted, only to realize later that wasn’t what you wanted at all.
Maybe it was a job that you dreamed of, or a place you wanted to live, that didn’t turn out to be all you had it cracked up to be. Maybe your personal memory has to do with a relationship you thought you had figured out. Only later to realize you didn’t have that person figured out at all. Some people make large purchases of things they’ve dreamed of having, only to get buyers’ remorse later on once they understand what having that thing really meant.
On Mother’s Day, we drew the sermon from Genesis 16: 1-15. This story from our scripture is an inspiring one, if you do the hard work. It has beautiful and important implications for our Mothers and really for all of us.
But it is also tough in a lot of ways. This is one of those typical Old Testament stories that assumes a few outdated things compared with our world. For instance, the presence of slaves or servants. This also demonstrates patriarchal power of the day over women. A third feature of this story’s backdrop would be that in Old Testament culture, one’s worth and wealth was in part judged by how many children one had.
Sarai wanted a child and couldn’t have one. She wanted a child so badly that she was willing to have her servant Hagar be a surrogate mother until she didn’t. Abram and Sarai had a lot of things that counted in their world. But they had no children. Especially no son, in that culture, to show off as an heir.
Sarai felt a little less-than, in that way. We can pity her for how she viewed herself. That dimension of this is tough, too. So, I understand that I have a little work to do in order to redeem this story and bring an inspiring Mother’s Day message from it.
Before the child was even born, Sarai changed her mind about what she had previously thought she wanted. Now, right as all of it was in their grasp, she changed her mind. Things got bad between them. Soon her servant, Hagar, went away.
As all of this unfolded, Hagar could not have been of much lowlier status. She was an African slave who didn’t even control her own body. Not even her life. Those were in the hands of Abram and Sarai.
So, that’s how Hagar was dealt harshly with such that she left the household and went out on her own. With nothing. If the wilderness was no place for an expectant young woman to be on her own, it certainly does punctuate how bad things had gotten for Hagar.
At our house, this is where Elizabeth might say, “If this is going to end well, I’m sure ready for it to. Can you hurry that part of the story up?” Okay, maybe we have to squint and turn our heads a certain way in order to see how this gets any better.
Wilderness in that place was usually barren and dangerous. But in the Bible, wilderness was also a place of encounter with the Divine. God’s appearance to Hagar in the wilderness signals God’s choice of the Egyptian slave woman, the ultimate outsider, as one to whom God is faithful in the grimmest circumstances.
God saw Hagar, when the rest of the world saw her only as a powerless, invisible expectant woman. Hagar responded to God’s promises by referring to Yahweh as “the God who sees me.”
Hagar’s was not the last place or era in which women were less regarded than they should have been. Hagar’s world was not the final place where the lowly could be taken advantage of and treated like property, if treated at all. Hagar’s world was not the end of the line for sometimes overlooking what all a mother did as she brought life to those around her.
No, mothers don’t have the market cornered on parenting responsibilities and on the ability to fill a healthy nurturing role in their children’s lives. But today, we do celebrate a God who sees us and hears us, including our Mothers who pour their hearts and souls into children as best they know how.
We see you. We hear you, and God does too.
Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.