You’re not wrong. I have been on the quiet side, which is perhaps not what I am known for around here, but I promise, I have a brilliant excuse. Maybe 3 or 18. Or I am a flake. Could be either. Anyway. I had the privilege of speaking to a ladies’ brunch today and thought you might enjoy the speech. Because really, when you think about Mother’s Day, the woman who leaps to mind is obviously Hagar… right?
I am uniquely ill-qualified to give a Mother’s Day devotional. Yes, I have a mother, and I am a mother, and I am entirely pro-motherhood, it’s not that. I even like hanging around in Hallmark stores. But I grew up in a household that had absolutely no use for Mother’s Day, which just proves, I think, that irony was God’s idea before we ever got ahold of it. My mother has always been of the firm, and I think sound, conviction that if we, her bonny offspring, did not treat her fantastically well all the rest of the year, then one day was not going to fix it and don’t even bother trying. This is the only defense I can offer (and I grant you, it is feeble) for why in the first year of my marriage, I purchased for my brand new mother-in-law a set of antibacterial hand sanitizers for Mother’s Day. It was unimpressive. Sent the wrong message, you might say. Because whatever else we might say about how mothers ought to get paid by the diaper and how seriously, one day a year where you get to loaf with a book and have burnt toast brought to you in bed (because who are we kidding, you’re the only one who really knows how to use the toaster) really doesn’t seem like too much to ask, what Mother’s Day boils down to is this: we want to feel seen.
Well… we want certain things to be seen. More on that in a minute.
But given that I think this desire to be seen is at the root of why we celebrate Mother’s Day, it seems only fitting that we look to the Word of God, to a story of motherhood He has given us that we need to learn something about. That’s right – today we are going to talk about Hagar.
For those of you unfamiliar with the story of Hagar, I am going to read 2 passages to you from the book of Genesis.
(Genesis 16, 21:9-21 — in person, I actually read this aloud. Go on. Read it yourself)
So. God promises Abraham more descendants than he could ever possibly count, and this promise is made when he and his wife, Sarai (later to be renamed Sarah) are way past the baby registry/painting the spare tent yellow because it could be good for a boy or a girl stage of life. Abraham believes God; Sarah will laugh at the notion of an intensely geriatric pregnancy, truth be told. And perhaps you have noticed this in your own life, as well – God keeps all of His promises. In His time… not ours. And as time begins to pass, Sarah’s faith takes a fit of the staggers and she decides to take matters into her own hands. Enter Hagar, the Egyptian handmaid. Now, if we were telling this story through our very finite, human understanding, we might say something stupid like – Meet Hagar, the girl who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But see, you and I are a bit shortsighted. We have a tendency to determine in advance what would be ideal and then pout when God sees fit to give us something better.
Sarah plans to put a rush order on God’s promise being fulfilled by sending her young maid in to her husband, who, fascinatingly enough, doesn’t seem to put up much of a fight (this would be a great moment to breathe a sigh of relief – God uses losers, and doubters, and people who laugh at the wrong time, and cranky wives and weak husbands…). Hagar ends up pregnant, gives birth to Ishmael; and Sarah resents her maid, and the son. Funny how our best plans work out, isn’t it? Hagar twice finds herself out in the wilderness. The first time, she ran of her own volition in response to Sarah’s harshness towards her, and the Lord Himself comes to find her, speaks comfort to her, and makes a glorious promise to her, for her son, and Hagar calls the Lord a name that He is not given anywhere else in scripture: You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees. The second time, she is driven out, driven to despair, driven to stick her boy under a tree because she cannot stand to watch him die in the wilderness… and again, God comes to her and this time, He fulfills the promise and brings the Egyptian woman and her son back home. All of His words come to pass.
So, what does this have to do with you? I ran this topic by a friend and she indicated that selecting it seemed like a great idea if I was trying hard to never get invited back. But bear with me, because no matter what your relationship to motherhood is today, no matter how you feel about Mother’s Day, the Gospel is here for us in the story of Hagar and you and I have need of it. Now… because we are women who crave being seen. How often do you scroll social media, wander a store, stand in line at a coffee shop without being bombarded with messages like these:
1. “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” — Anne Lamott
2. “Until you value yourself, you won’t value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.” — M. Scott Peck
6. “The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” — Anna Quindlen
7. “Women need solitude in order to find again the true essence of themselves.” ― Anne Morrow Lindbergh
8. “If you don’t love yourself, nobody will. Not only that, you won’t be good at loving anyone else. Loving starts with the self.” —Wayne Dyer
You carry so much love in your heart. Give some to yourself.
Take time off. The world will not fall apart without you.
“Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love.
Take the time today to love yourself. You deserve it.
I love you but I got to love me more.
And yes. I literally dragged the swamp of the internet to haul these gems up to the surface. Have you ever tried using hand sanitizer on your brain? Burns, I tell you what. Anyway. In a million different ways, we are told to value ourselves, to be the hero in our own stories, that all you really need is yourself (and maybe love, depending on what decade of music you like to hang out with), and along comes Mother’s Day, telling us that not only do YOU need to put a higher price tag on your worth, but so does everyone else! Ever been tempted to be snarky about the failures of your family to really recognize all that you do for them? Hold that thought.
There are 2 distinct takeaways from the story of Hagar that I would like us to leave with today, and they are connected. First, Hagar’s path to motherhood was not what you might call ideal. Talk about your birth plan going awry! This is hardly the stuff that romantic girlish dreams are made of. It is a story rife with heartbreak… and God meets her broken heart, out in both a physical and spiritual wilderness, and HE SEES. But I want you to notice with me what He sees: everything.
We want people to see our self-sacrifice, the million little things we deny ourselves for the sake of our husbands and children, the hours spent as chauffeur, counselor, head cook and bottlewasher. We aren’t wild about having our short tempers with toddlers seen, our impatience with socks left on the floor and meals that we slaved over going unappreciated, the critical words we have passive aggressively shot towards our families when we are tired. We would rather not have our internal ticker tape of discontented complaints and murmuring against God and man read aloud or written on our Mother’s Day cards… because if we are honest, our bad outweighs our good and even our best mothering is entirely shot through with sin. In Isaiah 64:6, God, through His prophet, describes our best acts of righteousness as being every bit as shiny and beautiful as a filthy rag – not even kidding, it’s the word for a used menstrual pad.
But He is the God Who Sees Me. He sees all of it. There is only one way that this becomes good news for us, and that is if when God looks at you, He sees the perfect obedience of Christ. Put another way, you must be in Christ, by faith, and your mothering a working out of the salvation that He has worked in for this message of Hagar to be a comfort to you! If you are in Christ, you are seen (in your mess, in your failure, in your brokenheartedness, in all the ways that motherhood has not gone according to plan in your life) and yet loved and you have a refuge. His righteousness is yours by faith. And, incidentally, knowing who we are and who He is also frees us from the need to be seen, appreciated, and recognized in the world! The toast can be burnt, your hard work can go unlauded all throughout the year (and even on Mother’s Day), or you can thrill at the skywriter that your husband hired to spin poetry in the sky about your meatloaf, and either way, you can still have joy and contentment and delight – because it has never been about you in the first place! Incidentally, if that does happen, see me after. I want your recipe.
So that’s takeaway number 1: you do not want to be seen in your mothering, or anywhere else, unless you are clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Repent, believe, rejoice – happy Mother’s Day.
And actually, takeaway number 2 is rather similar, when you think about it, and we glean it from the second passage that concerns Hagar, in Genesis 21. God has kept His promise to Abraham and Sarah (how do we still manage to be surprised that God always keeps His promises? Even today?) and they have a boy of laughter – Isaac. And as you can possibly imagine, tensions enter the home. Who knew that such an innocent, well-thought out plan like sending your young servant girl to your marriage bed with your husband to produce an heir for you to raise as your own could go so badly?
Sarah sees Ishmael, the son of Hagar, picking on her sweet baboo (the word used is that he “scoffed,” literally means he was laughing at Isaac), and she pulled out her inner mama llama and, with the authority of her husband behind her, gets Hagar and Ishmael booted. It is when they are wandering in the wilderness that Hagar reaches the end of herself, the end of hope. We are not told all the whens and whys and wherefores. We don’t know what kind of mother she was, we only know what kind of God the Lord is, and He is the One who finds her yet again, reaffirming the original promises and sparing both her and her son. See, she had laid him under a terebinth tree and walked away – for Hagar, the only thing worse than having her son die of exposure in the wilderness would be having to helplessly stand by and watch it happen. She puts him under a tree…
And, that my friends, is our second takeaway.
Not only must you be covered in the blood of Jesus Christ, you must carry your children to the tree of Calvary and leave them there. The only way your sons and daughters do not die in the wilderness of sin is if they, too, take shelter in the Son who died on the tree on their behalf. Take your children to Jesus. Take them by bringing them under the preaching of the word, by teaching them to love His Word, by saturating your imperfect mothering with the perfect and all-consuming grace of God in Christ. That means that when (not if, ladies. When.) you sin in front of them, or against them, you repent to them. Show them how to deal with their brokenness. Walk them to Jesus, to the Tree of Life, to the God Who Sees Them (and you)… and live.