When Abraham was 99 and his wife Sarah had passed menopause, God came to Abraham and promised him that Sarah would bear him a son. When Sarah heard this she laughed saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” Then God asked Abraham why Sarah had laughed. God asked, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” And within the year, Sarah bore a son Isaac, to Abraham.
This story is told in Genesis 18 and 21 (It wraps around the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah providing fertile ground for a meditation about choosing life or death.). It came to mind on New Year's Day. I will have my 60'th birthday this spring. This coming birthday has caused me to reflect in ways that I have never done before. Maybe it is because at 60 I am becoming more aware of the things I am unlikely to do in this life.
When I was a teen-ager I remember having an argument with my parents. Their response was essentially, “This is the way we are. We are too old to change. Take it or leave it.” I was hurt by that response. In my youthful arrogance, I thought it was a cop-out. Now that I am older, I understand how hard it is to change the habits of a lifetime. But I still think that their response was a cop-out because they never sought to even admit or address the issues underlying my anger. When I am shown an area in which I need to grow or heal I am sometimes tempted to say, “I am too old to change that.” Then I remember how I felt about that response from my parents and realize that too old is not going to cut it as an excuse for me.
So when the story of Abraham and Sarah and Isaac came to my mind, it seemed particularly fitting. With God, we are never too old for new life, new growth, new blessing. God can bring forth life at any time. This is true for us as individuals and it is true for our institutions. We need to be unwilling to accept that the way things are is the way things have to be. We have to be willing to pray and be willing to do the immediate steps that are laid before us. Sometimes this might be to return to something that we stopped doing because it didn't seem to work any more. Sarah's question comes to mind here, “Shall I have pleasure?” One can imagine that after menopause, Abraham and Sarah had given up in taking physical pleasure in each other. But they found a way, even though they were old and dry and out of it came new life and a great people.
What are the areas where we are being called to new life, even though it seems a futile effort because we appear to be dry and barren?