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Facing Life's UncertaintiesA Study on Sarah
By Judith Couchman
Zondervan Publishing CompanyCopyright © 2002 Judith Couchman
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSESSION ONE
Scheme a Little Scheme with Me When insecurity strikes, you can turn to God.
Sand and flies and heat. Sand and flies and heat. Sarai clipped the words in her mind to the rhythm of the camel's feet. Sand and flies and heat. Sand and flies ...
Her world seemed consumed by those pesky elements. For days she and her husband, Abram, and his nephew, Lot, with all their belongings, had traveled through the desert. They were on the move - again. This time they planned to settle in Egypt until the famine ended. "Settle" wasn't exactly the right word. They never seemed to settle anywhere. Four moves, one of them spanning more than 750 miles, had marked the progression of years since her marriage. Little else had changed.
She was still known as Sarai, the Barren One. That name branded her and made her vulnerable to losing her husband, to a consuming sense of inadequacy, and to society's unsympathetic tsk-tsking over her lack of ability to fulfill a woman's most important function. Other attributesdimmed in comparison to this inadequacy. Her devotion to her husband. Her faithfulness to God. Her beauty, which she still retained. She could tell by the way men looked at her. Yet everyone called her the Barren One.
Sarai tried to console herself with at least having devotion and beauty, even if she didn't have children. But last night, as the desert breezes whisked sand around their camp, she regretted them both - and wondered about God's faithfulness.
Everyone else had straggled off to bed, weary from travel. Only Abram and Sarai sat by the fire on which the evening meal had been cooked. As Sarai studied the stars, she heard Abram clear his throat several times - a sure sign he felt nervous.
"Sarai, tomorrow when we reach Egypt ..." He paused, cleared his throat, and swallowed.
"Abram, just say whatever is on your mind." She squeezed his sweaty hand.
"When we reach Egypt," Abram continued, removing his hand from hers to stir the fire, "men will notice you. Maybe not tomorrow, but we can't keep you in hiding for months - or however long we stay. And ..." He cleared his throat again and kept stirring the fire, not looking at her.
Fear clutched Sarai's heart. She had thought of this move as unsettling and uncomfortable, as something she dreaded. Traveling was dangerous, with robbers, sandstorms, and scorpions, and any one of them could steal your life with ease. She felt unsure of where the road would take them next, and she longed for a home with solid walls rather than the wafting sides of a tent. This journey didn't hold the promise of a secure foundation of any kind. All of these things worried Sarai as she lay next to Abram at night and her back muscles ached from the hours on a camel. But she had almost grown used to the gnawing sense of insecurity each concern fed, just as she had grown accustomed to the unrelenting sun.
Now her husband was introducing a new danger. They were entering a foreign country alone, with no protection, and Abram sensed her vulnerability. She looked at his strong face, with its crags of wrinkles from years in the sun. He would protect her.
But then Abram spilled out more disturbing words, all in a rush. "If we tell people I'm your brother, I'll be safe. If they think I'm your husband, what's to stop someone from seeing to it that you don't have a husband anymore? From killing me?"
Sarai's fear turned to terror. What kind of a plan was this? Pretend she wasn't married? Leave herself vulnerable to the attention of other men? Such a large price to pay! Too large, her heart cried. I can't do it!
But her husband, her love, the only fixed point in the shifting, insecure sands of her life, needed her to do this awful thing. To deceive others, to betray herself, to give up the only role that brought her a sense of pride, to ... save her husband. What he asked was terrible - and terribly important to do.
Now Sarai was the one who couldn't look at her spouse. She nodded and closed her eyes.
Setting the Stage AF-F-FRAID? ME?
As with Sarah, each of us harbors insecurities, reasons we feel unsure of ourselves and anxious about life. Before attending this week's group session, think about your own times of uncertainty. These brief activities will help you sort them out.
Listed below are words associated with insecurity. Circle the ones you relate to the most:
Now write down circumstances that bring out your insecurities. For example, when the boss calls you into his or her office, when you speak in front of a group, when you tell your mother about a trait of hers that drives you crazy. If it's difficult pinpointing some circumstances, think back over the last week's calendar and record the incidents that made you feel unsure of yourself.
Examine the words you circled and the incidents you wrote down. Ask God to give you the courage to turn your insecurities over to him. Discuss with him how you can act out of faith rather than fear. Thank him that he is with you even when you are afraid.
Discussing Sarai's Story ON SHIFTING SAND
If Sarai hadn't been sitting on sand, one could say she was wedged "between a rock and a hard place." Her husband, to protect himself, has asked her to lie. Most likely her insecurity, her sense of not being safe, reaches fever pitch as she considers the options. Save her husband? Serve her God? Save herself? How can she choose?
Before you begin the discussion, read the Bible text, Genesis 11:29-30; 12.
1. Sarai (whose name will later be changed to Sarah) is first mentioned in Scripture in Genesis 11:29-30. What emotional wounds could barrenness inflict on Sarai? List these on a whiteboard or an easel pad.
2. In his culture Abram could obtain the promise of offspring by having sexual relations with a household servant, obtaining another wife (divorcing his barren wife, if he so chose), or keeping a concubine. As Sarai considered these options, how do you think she felt? How do you think she felt about God? Add her emotions to your list.
3. In Genesis 12:1-2 and 7, God allows Abram a peek at the future. If you were Sarai, how would you respond to your husband's news? Add your insights to the list.
4. During their marriage Abram and Sarai were no strangers to travel. What emotional hardships do you think their moves created for Sarai? Add these to your list.
5. Read Genesis 12:10-13. Then read the Behind the Scenes section, "Truth in Labeling," on page 24. Do you think Sarai was right to go along with Abram's plan? Why or why not?
6. After reading verses 14-20, how do you think the plot affected Sarai's view of Abram? Add any additional emotional wounds to your list.
7. Look over the list of possible emotional burdens that Sarai carried. How do you think they affected her view of herself? Of God?
Sharing Your Story
ROAD SIGNS FOR INSECURE JOURNEYS
Can you relate to Sarai's insecurities? Most of us can. When you share those feelings with friends, the road can look less treacherous because they travel with you.
1. Look over the list of Sarai's emotional woes. Suggest and discuss modern-day correlations to Sarai's insecurities. For example, in what ways does our mobile society bring out insecurities? How might a husband make his wife feel emotionally vulnerable today? What corresponds to the shame of childlessness? Or is that still a shame in itself?
2. If only some road signs had been available for Sarai as she traveled to Egypt! She might have avoided some of the bumps. Divide into pairs and choose a road sign that might have helped Sarai deal with her fears. For example, Limited Visibility could have prepared her for the walk of faith. When the group gathers back together, share what signs you chose and why.
3. In what ways do insecurities limit a person? Limit her view of God?
4. Read Psalm 27:1, 5 (found on page 28). What hints does it give about overcoming insecurities, which often stir up fear?
5. Discuss fearful situations women in the group anticipate this upcoming week. Talk about specific ways those fears can be faced with God's help. (If you aren't comfortable revealing a fear, talk about a frightening situation you've experienced recently and the ways you dealt with it. Share both your less-than-perfect as well as your successful responses.) How can you remember that God is in control?
Sometimes insecurities and fears badger us, but we need not give in to their threats. We can remember that God is our Place of Shelter. He is in control.
Behind the Scenes
TRUTH IN LABELING
The scheme that Abram concocted to protect himself has engendered much speculation by biblical scholars. Did he and Sarai lie? How could they be considered godly people yet carry out such a plot?
A careful reading of Scripture shows that familial relationships apparently allowed for this sibling definition. In Genesis 13:8 Abram calls Lot his brother, yet Genesis 11:27 and 14:12 clearly state that Lot was Abram's nephew. Sarai was Lot's sister. If Lot could be considered Abram's brother, she could also be called Abram's sister. Also, in Genesis 20:12 Abram describes her as his sister and explains, "She really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife."
Excerpted from Facing Life's Uncertainties by Judith Couchman Copyright © 2002 by Judith Couchman. Excerpted by permission.
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