Her name was Sarah and she walked into the unknown with her husband, Abraham, when God called (Genesis 12:1). God promised them a baby and as many descendants as there were stars in the sky (Genesis 15:5). And, finally, three men walked out of the desert and accepted the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah’s tent (Genesis 18:8).

One of them said, “I’m coming back about this time next year. When I arrive, your wife Sarah will have a son.” Sarah was listening at the tent opening, just behind the man. Abraham and Sarah were old by this time, very old. Sarah was far past the age for having babies. Sarah laughed within herself, “An old woman like me? Get pregnant? With this old man of a husband?” God said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh saying, ‘Me? Have a baby? An old woman like me?’ Is anything too hard for God? I’ll be back about this time next year and Sarah will have a baby.” Sarah lied. She said, “I didn’t laugh,” because she was afraid. But he said, “Yes you did; you laughed.”

-Genesis 18:10-15 The Message

It’s funny, but Sarah’s lack of faith shocks and surprises everyone, four thousand years (give or take a few) later. From her perspective, however, laughter was a natural and reasonable response when a guy walked out of the desert and said that she was going to have a baby.

Wouldn’t you have laughed too?

Sarah was ninety years old. She was barren. It was doubly impossible for her to have a baby and I think, if I was Sarah, I’d have cried at the apparent mockery of my hopes and disappointments and the pain of ninety years of waiting for a baby. Ninety years. That’s longer than most people live today! That’s a lifetime of living with an empty womb and an empty heart, a lifetime of hoping, a lifetime of surviving the disappointment of another month without a baby. And for all that time Sarah waited.

Finally, God promised to give her a baby. The narrative in Genesis skips from Sarah laughing at the idea of having a baby (in Genesis 18:10-15) to Sarah laughing at the reality of her baby boy, Isaac, born of her womb and held in her arms (in Genesis 21:1-7). The writer of Hebrews tells us more and assures us that, in spite of her laughter, Sarah had faith. He says,

By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised.

-Hebrews 11:11 NASB

God gave Sarah the promise of a miracle and asked her to believe in Him and His ability to do the impossible. She needed faith. She had faith. And God made the impossible — the impossible to her old and barren body, her impossible — a reality in the shape of a baby.

God’s promise and Sarah’s faith overcame her impossible.

So Sarah had a baby and laughed again. Maybe she laughed in breathless, dizzy delight and wonder when she held Isaac, the child of the promise, in her arms for the first time, when she looked into his eyes for the first time, when he called her “mama” for the first time. And now, of course, we know that God is able.

We know because of Sarah. Because of Moses. Because of Hannah. Because of David. And because of  Mary. Remember? Thousands of years later, speaking to another woman, (who was, incidentally, one of Sarah’s descendants) God said, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37 NASB)

Yet we laugh — all of us, me too — when God gives us the promise of a miracle that stares our impossible in the eye and says, “You’re going down!”

Why don’t we remember the manger and the cross and the tomb…the empty tomb? God, apparently, likes doing the impossible. For all of us, not just for Sarah. Or maybe He likes to do the impossible with us and maybe He likes us to laugh with abandon and confidence when He promises to do the impossible. Maybe He likes us to plunge courageously into the midst of the promise and the impossible with Him. Maybe, maybe His promise and our faith can overcome our impossibles.

When Isaac was born, can anyone quantify the unbounded gladness that filled the hearts of Sarah and Abraham? They must have laughed again then, laughed without pain, laughed with abandon at the miracle of the baby that squirmed in Sarah’s arms. I wish I could ask them if at that moment, they understood the waiting, the yearning, the pain through all those years of hope deferred. Did they forget it all in their joy? Did God ever explain himself? Or was his answer simply the child and that was all that was needed? Was God’s grand answer simply a child whose very life echoed with Almighty laughter?

-Sarah Clarkson, from “When God Laughs,” on the Rabbit Room blog

6 Comments

  1. I’ve been married to my husband for going on 15 years now. Our daily life can be such a challenge. He’s physically disabled due to degenerative disc disease. We lost our first two babies, then after much martial distress on our way back to trusting God again we where blessed with our Sarah. It was a scary, wonderful pregnancy as I feared miscarriage again! But miscarriage never happened. I loved every moment being pregnant! I was so blessed to birth her naturally in water at a midwifery birth center. That also changed my life!

    I was greatly hoping I would somehow be able to conceive easily after that….to no avail. I think it was the third year of Sarah’s life that God stared speaking a promise of a boy to me. As I dared to believe the next several years He continued to confirm it. Sometimes I feel crazy, but it’s a fact I seem to not be able to keep to myself, although I’m sure people think me…delusional.

    He also confirmed it through an amazing prayer I prayed over three years ago. With the desire to have another baby growing so strongly inside me, as though my womb was crying out to be filed, I prayed. God told me the previous season through the study of Genesis that yes He promised me a boy and no its not time yet. So this day I prayed, “If it’s still not time, send another.” A week or two later I was pregnant with the “other” whom God graciously sent. Savannah, a precious, unexpected gift who looked like me!

    The past several seasons have been of great pain and challenged to me. My faith has wavered like never before. God has shown me things in my attitude and heart that have been so painful. Many, many tears have fallen due to these things and the struggle in being a wife to a disabled husband. I’ve thought about God’s promise to me lately. My intention is to continue to believe with all my heath issues and his, but my prayer has been for God to again confirm it….because well my faith is weak now and my heart could use the encouragement. I believe He has used your words today to do that with other things lately. He always had used the promise He gave to Abraham to confirm with me. 🙂

    So I will dare to praise the Lord for another answered prayer even thoughfor some reason my womb feels full, but is not. My arms feel empty, but I can hold His other blessings in them and be thankful as I do what you mentioned, wait. And I agree, it’s easier to walk away than to stay, waiting.

    God bless!

  2. I was just asking God to send me a godly husband. I have never been married. I am beyond child bearing years. God just recently put in my heart the desire for a mate. I was thinking. This is something that has never happened in my life. I have not even had very many “male” friends or “boyfriends.” This article helped me to see that nothing is impossible with God. If God put that desire in my heart, he is well able to bring it to pass. Thank you for sharing this message.

  3. Such a beautiful post, Elisabeth…thank you. What a wonderful reminder of the kind of God we have!

  4. Robin Clark says:

    At thirty two years old, I have given up on the idea of ever meeting the right person and getting married. I am currently waiting to see if I will get into the nursing program at the community college. Things didn’t work out with my dream college, but God showed me that it is for the best because mom’s illness started getting worse than it was before I appllied to my dream college. I firmly believe that there is a reason for all things and that God knows what is best for His children.

  5. Sarah’s story is the perfect reminder to me that Our God is ABLE. He can do anything!! Just dwelling on that thought gives me renewed hope and joy.

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