Sunlight Versus Shadow
The late Spring day was perfect for a leisurely picnic, spread on a tabletop rock tucked into the hills of western North Carolina. Hungrily turning our faces to the bright sun as we walk between the shady trees, my husband searches for just the right spot. Turning off the sunlight dappled trail, we climb a slight hill of luscious green grass growing in the sun, and sit on the large warm granite rock protruding from the hillside. What a view! On top of the world, we sit, gazing at the light and shadow playing in the valley. The Blue Ridge Mountains offer a backdrop of serenity and solidarity in the distance, and sparrows and chickadees offer praise to their Creator. Fluffy white clouds sail overhead, and a soft caressing breeze gently lifts our hair.
My husband returns to the car, and I soak up the sunbeams, waiting in our quiet hide-a-way. After 15 minutes, I walk the few steps to the head of the trail and stare intently through the light and shadows several hundred feet down the path. After 31 years of marriage I knew I’d recognize him if I could see him. Far down the trail, I thought I saw him in the shadows of a tall oak tree. But when he stepped into the sunlight, I recognized his bear-like walk and the tilt of his head. I smiled and waved.
Have you ever tried to identify someone in the shadows? Sarah’s story, included in Genesis chapters 12-23, reminds me how difficult it is to recognize things in the dark. She begins in the sunlight of obedience, following the God of her husband as they depart from Ur, headed toward Canaan. However, she has an issue that pervades all her days and dims her happiness. The darkness of her and Abraham’s infertility drives her into the shadows of despair and hopelessness. She knows that God promised Abraham multiple descendants, but so many obstacles cloud that truth. Her age, her knowledge, and her emotions obscure the powerful light of that truth. Sarah’s murky prison of despair wants a baby on her terms and in her timing. So, she follows familiarity. Back in Ur, her Babylonian hometown, the code of Hammurabi rules that she can give a servant to her husband and claim the children that result from the union. What ominous blackness filled her heart in those days! When her servant Hagar handed her the baby Ishmael, shame covered her gloomy soul as she realized that barrenness was her burden, not Abraham’s. She lived in the shadows for fourteen years. Finally, God fulfilled His promise to her, and she exulted in the sheer delight of Isaac as he cuddled in her arms. The sunlight of love and happiness flooded her soul.
But the shadows overwhelmed her again when Hagar’s adolescent Ishmael began mocking her precious little Isaac. How Sarah’s anger must have clouded the glory of God in her soul! What a bleak overcast day when she exiled Hagar and the young man Ishmael out into the desert to fend for themselves. How she must have hated Hagar for revealing her great shame of barrenness and for giving her precious Abraham what she could not.
Sarah lived in the shadow of her own barrenness, anger and desire for control. She also experienced the full sunlight of God’s blessing in the sheer miraculous delight of Isaac, born when she was 99 years old. Sarah’s shadows were caused by the darkness of her own inward focus. The door of her soul slammed shut, and the light of God’s presence disappeared from her story. She remains in the shadows until thousands of years later when the Apostle Paul boldly brings her into the brilliant light of God’s truth, and we see that her whole life was a symbol of God’s glorious, brilliant, grace. Through the shadows of her guilt, shame and hatred, the LORD pursued her soul until she turned, transfixed by the warm, healing light of His presence. She reminds us of God’s grace, offered to us at Calvary. She reminds us that we, too, are symbols of His grace poured out abundantly and in great love.
Finally, we say goodbye to her in Hebrews 11:11 as we stand at her grave and read God’s epitaph on her tomb.
Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.
Now, her testimony beams a ray of hope into our souls today, thousands of years later. The blazing light of her faith illuminates our path today. Standing in the full sunshine of His grace, every nuance of Sarah’s faith is clearly outlined. Somewhere between Genesis and Hebrews, she had traveled through faith, struggling to trust. Like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon of darkness, Sarah broke her chains of disbelief and stumbled into the glow of God’s divine light. She had turned to the Light. Her footsteps echo through Hebrew’s Hall of Faith as she takes her place among the other heroes and heroines listed in chapter 11.
As I look up at her statue in the Hall of Faith, her face seems faintly bemused in the luminescence light gleaming softly overhead. In that instant, she takes her place in my heart as a woman of faith, and she smiles at me, her daughter of faith. Her body had received the physical strength to fulfill God’s plan for her through her faith, and her soul had judged Him faithful all these years. The statue’s glow highlights the baby Isaac in her arms, proof that God can take the spark of faith and ignite a fire in our souls today through her life!
As we rest on the solid rock, feasting on picnic fare, we bask in the sunlight that warms our pale winter skin. And I rejoice that God included Sarah in His kaleidoscope of women in the Bible. Her life is full of light and shadow, but, presiding over her choices, is God’s radiant amazing grace, filled with His love, and His unique plan for her life. And I know that He does the same for me!