My fists clenched; my face scrunched and turned hot. Then noise like the screech of an old radio burst from my mouth: "You will eat those beans! You will eat them right now!" I uncurled one tight fist and slammed my palm down on the dining room table. My kids' eyes grew wide. The baby started to wail.
I started to shake. Who was this crazed woman screaming at her children? And about beans of all things? The Marlo I knew was calm and reasonable. She had no resemblance to the shrieking maniac who'd temporarily invaded my body and my home.
Most moms I know have experienced what it's like to become the yelling mom they promised themselves they'd never be. All of us know what it's like for stress, pain and fear to push us into becoming our worst selves. It's horrible, sickening. And we feel helpless to restrain the monster, helpless to repair the relationships damaged in the wake of the beast.
Where is God when you become so much less than He's created you to be? Where is He when you fail, when you blow up your life, when you treat others as they should never be treated? Where is God when you become an unholy mess?
I've found hope for my failures in the life of Sarah, Abraham's wife. Sarah knew what it was like to become someone she never wanted to be. The one who would be commended for her faith in Hebrews 11 was not always faithful. In Genesis 16:6, she was an unrighteous servant-mistreater. After years of infertility, Sarah, then called Sarai, gave her servant, Hagar, to her husband to have a child for her. After Hagar became pregnant, she began to treat Sarai disrespectfully. Then, Genesis 16:6 reads, "But Abram said to Sarai, 'Indeed, your maid is in your power; do to her as you please.' Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her presence."
As a mom, I know how facing arrogance, disrespect and belligerence from those who are supposed to be most respectful can make you crazy. I know that feeling of helpless, and the anger that arises because you feel out of control. Maybe you do too.
Sarai was the one who was supposed to follow the God of Abram in a culture that worshiped other gods. She was the one who should have been more righteous, not less. But in her insecurity, her anger, her fear, her pain and her hate, she failed. And she became an angry, bitter, hateful and hurtful follower of God.
Sometimes we're no different. And, like Sarah, we drive away those we most need near us. And there we are, with our hidden guilt, our broken mess, our shattered relationships and lives.
That's when we look for the quick fix, a list of to-do's to make things right. We say, "I will do x, y and z, and it will all be OK again." I wish I could offer such a list. But Sarai's story tells us there is no list. There is no simple plan to make it all better. We know this because Sarai didn't go after Hagar when the servant girl ran away. Abram didn't either. Both seemed incapable of repairing what they had broken. They sat in their tents with the shards of their hopes, with the weight of their shame, while a woman pregnant with Abram's child ran for Egypt.
Sarai couldn't bring Hagar back. But God did.
God's messenger found the slave girl at a desert spring. She had no intention of returning to Sarai. But God saw her, He cared and He promised to bring blessing from her pain. All he asked was that she return to, and tolerate, the mistress who mistreated her (Gen 16:9-11).
Hagar returned not because Sarai had made promises, but because God did.
God restores what we destroy. God brings people back when we cannot. God gave Sarai, and He gives us, another chance to do right.
We sit in our tents with our ruined lives in our hands, and all the while, God is going out to restore what we have broken.
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