Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written,
“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;
break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than those of the one who has a husband.”
A few months ago, I was walking through a baseball complex from my son’s game to the snack bar. I passed a group of fourteen year old boys warming up for their game. They (not-so-quietly) said some things about me that were shocking and inappropriate. They whispered, so I’m sure they thought I didn’t hear them. But I did. It took me a minute to register what was happening, and I was enraged when I understood. I wanted to say all kinds of things to these boys, but none of them were the kinds of things an adult woman should probably say to teenage boys she has never met. All of my words were very “un-pastor’s-wife-ish” and in addition to the strong language, I wanted to pin a couple of those kids up against a wall.
I decided it would be best if I keep walking.
Later that day, as I drove my own fourteen year-old son home, I said some of my words to him, though. By then my anger had subsided, and I knew what I wished those boys knew about women and about sex. I told him that women are not objects that boys/men get to decide how to use for their own pleasure, whether it is in real life or in their own imaginations. I explained to him that when he someday finds a woman who is worthy of his love and devotion, he will understand that honoring the holiness of her identity as one of God’s image bearers will open up a world to him he can’t even imagine exists now. I tried to explain the poetic mystery of physical love, and how our view of one another’s purpose and identity weaves the fabric of our ethical and moral regard for others.
Who we are, and who we believe other people to be matters if we are to live as Christ lived, and love our neighbors as he asked us to.
In my heart, I am still grieving for that group of boys, who have allowed movies and magazines and YouTube to define men and women for them. They need their moms and dads to teach them lessons that none of us can learn if we keep living the way we do, with our heads in our phones and computers, never seeing what is happening in the lives of the people around us.
We are all children of a great author, and since the beginning of time, we have created cultures and societies that try to write the stories of their people. Frankly, humans have never really done a great job in this role of Author of Purpose and Meaning.
As Galatians proves, once upon a time, a woman’s value was determined by her ability birth a son. Her beauty and level of desirability were markers of a bright, bright future in the grand story of her people. Sarah, Rachel, Leah, Hagar, Hannah, and Elizabeth all know what I’m talking about. In that time, a man’s value began when a wife (or wives) produced many sons. His ability to provide food and shelter for a large family meant he was worthy of respect and honor from everyone around him. Abraham, David, and Zechariah come to mind here, along with kings and men of power from every culture.
In modern times, a successful man’s story hasn’t changed all that much, except that having an heir isn’t vital if you are killing it in some way: ideally we’re looking for money, fame, title, power, or physical prowess. As women, however, we have awoken to new ideas of what it means to live your best story. We have set ourselves free to write stories that don’t fit in the usual boxes. We have burned our bras and gone to college and led companies and we have even run for president. We can slay all day as single women, as moms, as achievers of great things. We do not belong to men, we belong to ourselves.
As a people, modernity has given us the freedom to be the captains of our own destinies. We are burning flames of greatness. We cannot be stopped.
However, we are now alone in ways we never were before. We have been set adrift on the waves, and there are no guideposts to tell us how to live this new life of ours well. Who has done this before? No one, apparently. Wait. Maybe there have been a few people in history whose stories can guide us; after all, queens and kings and vanguards have arisen in every generation.
This problem of identity and success is perplexing when you refuse to allow your value to be determined by the opinions of your culture and the people around you.
Even so, our hearts will ask these questions forever: Am I good enough? Am I beautiful? Am I strong? Am I worthy of love and friendship?
It’s as if God has allowed us to see the true barrenness that people use to sate their hunger for purpose and success, so that he can reveal that he is the true source of all our security. God sings from heaven every day, but it can sometimes be hard to hear:
Refuse the temporary satisfaction of human approval and regard. Let go of their criticisms and lay down their accolades. You are my precious, my beautiful, my everything. You have always been enough to win my whole heart for an eternity. Your barrenness or fruitfulness in earthly success does not define you. Hide yourself in me. The last is first, the smallest is the greatest, and the weakest person in my kingdom is the strongest in my hand. Do not be afraid.
We are people of the covenant. We are children of a promise that may not fully materialize in our earthly life. We may never be queens or kings or vanguards in this world, but that does not mean we aren’t mighty warriors in the Kingdom of God. We may have to wait until the last days of our life here to see the purpose in all the small assignments God has given us as laborers, as friends, as ambassadors of grace and truth.
Rejoice in your belonging. Sing and cry aloud at all that is being birthed in heaven because you are faithful here on earth. Your culture is not writing your story. You are not writing your story. God has already written out all the days of your life and his stories always end in glorious redemption. The law could not save you from your sin. Your opportunities could not save you from your smallness. But the Son of God has saved you from a dark kingdom that wants only to consume you with its lies. The Spirit has saved you from a life devoid of power and peace. The Father has saved you from the waves that threaten to engulf you.