Advent Day 8: Genesis 21:1-4, Barren No More

The weather outside is frightful. I’m not kidding. It’s gross, y’all. Here’s my view as I finish this post–


Yep, Star Wars jammy pants, fuzzy slippers and the tree. But it’s time to get serious.

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. Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him. When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him.

Genesis 21:1-4

A few days ago, I ran across this post Why God Took So Long To Give Me A Baby. I didn’t immediately click to read it, but became engrossed in the comments. Stories of women afflicted by infertility ran endlessly under the link. Most of them celebrated happy endings—successful IVF’s, miraculous late in life conceptions, and (my favorite) adoptions.

One woman’s comment seared my heart. She addressed the author of the blog post directly, “I have to admit I was jealous when I read that you’re pregnant.” I wanted to break through the screen and give her a hug.

Because I’ve been there.

It’s been 18 years since my first miscarriage, three since the last. I’ve had plenty of time to process, but I avoid looking at posts of baby bumps and ultrasounds. I’m not really jealous anymore. But it still pricks my heart and resurrects the pain.

As I sift through Advent scriptures, I am tempted to skip the stories of Sarah and Elizabeth. The way that I identify with these women, where my experiences intersect with theirs, is through miscarriages. I write about it a lot, and I wonder if I’m wearing out my readers by returning to the topic again and again.

But it’s a topic on which I can write with some authority—at least to the extent of conveying how it feels to be childless. Between the second and third miscarriages, I began to wrestle with feelings of failure. It seemed ridiculous. What could I have done differently? The doctors assured me that I was not to blame.

When I confessed these feelings to a genetics counselor, she nodded and said, “You feel persecuted, don’t you?”

Peculiar, but yes. Persecuted. That’s how it feels—as if I’d been selected by some cosmic lottery to fail in what, for other women, is rather routine. Who made the decision that I would try and fail again and again? Was it God?

If I felt persecuted (by God, no less), imagine poor Sarah. Her culture determined a woman’s worth, in part, on her ability to have children. Then, if the feelings of loss and failure were not enough, the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham depended on her.

I wonder if that’s a subject that Abraham and Sarah roundly avoided during conversations over dinner. When God first declared his promises to Abraham, they probably bubbled over with excitement, dreaming about the future with hopeful expectation. But after so many years, Sarah must have concluded that God’s promises excluded her. She even concocted a plan for Abraham to fulfill the promise for himself. She handed her husband over to Hagar to bear him a son, Ishmael. Oh, my word. I can’t imagine. What a family. What a disaster.

Thirteen years after Ishmael’s birth, the LORD appeared to Abraham and set him straight on exactly how these promises would come about.

And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.”

Genesis 17:15-21

As my fingers move to type those words, I have to wonder—did Abraham and Sarah (and Hagar and Ishmael) believe for thirteen years that the son through which everything would be accomplished had already been born? For all of Ishmael’s life, had Sarah believed that she had no role in the covenant or God’s promises?

I look back at the comments of that blog post. Women who get to celebrate—and women who are jealous, who pine, who exist day in and day out with deep ache draping over every thought. When God made His promises, did He forget about me?

Yet, God redeems all the barrenness in this story—not just the pining for a child, but barrenness where faith and hope had been replaced by doubt and disillusionment. Look at how the steadfast love of God redeems each character’s circumstances–

  • Had God excluded Ishmael, Hagar would have had to wonder if her son should ever have been born at all. But her suffering does not come to nothing! Ishmael receives a promise to become a great nation.
  • Then, I love how Abraham goes to bat for Ishmael! He petitions God on behalf of his son. Ishmael is then circumcised, which sounds unfortunate for a 13-year-old. But to me this symbolizes that even though we make mistakes by presuming to cause God’s will, He does not exclude us from His promises.
  • For Abraham, the covenant is officially established. And it did not happen because of some scheme attempting to prop up the LORD’s plan. Isaac’s birth was supernatural, a miracle. God confounded everyone by blessing this couple in their extreme old age.
  • But the LORD was gracious to Sarah.

Barrenness had been Sarah’s identity for all her married life. When God repeated his promise to Abraham over the years, she surely felt persecuted. His plan for Abraham—and the rather lengthy timeline–highlighted her shame and failure. Then she made a mess of things by bringing Hagar into the picture.

But the LORD was gracious to her. We don’t just see God’s grace in the birth of this child—He included Sarah in the promise. He gave her a role in accomplishing His purpose, to redeem the world through His Son Jesus.

For a long time, the temptation to doubt God’s goodness made a wreck of me. For Sarah, God gave the son she had always wanted. Why not me? I not only pined for a child, I was barren for lack of faith.

But God has not excluded me from His promises or His purpose. He chose Abraham and Sarah to be the first of His people, the nation who would give us Jesus.

And then, God chose Katie—

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will …

Ephesians 1:4

God healed my barrenness—a barrenness of faith, a barrenness of purpose, and the desire for children–through adoption. God’s grace abounded when He gave me Jesus. And then the LORD was gracious once again. He gave me Eden and Emma Kate.

I am included in the promise, and I have a role in God’s purpose. I hope my little blog is part of that purpose. I want so much to point people to Jesus.

We’re supposed to get some snow tonight. Actually, it’s going to be a wintry mix—probably more sleet than snow. Whatever. It’s white, and it makes me feel all Christmas-y. I’m lighting the fire and cooking some yummy yuletide comfort food. The kids will have hot cocoa with extra marshmallows, and I’ll curl up in my favorite chair with a mug of my Mom’s wassail.

But I have all this to enjoy because of Jesus. We celebrate the manger, but God’s purpose was the cross. Take some time to love and adore Jesus because He was born to die—for you—to heal you of your barrenness.

Adoption as Sons

Merry Christmas.






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