I've been drawn to the story of the Shunammite woman recently, in 2 Kings 4. What a generous and thoughtful woman who invited Elisha the prophet into her home for meals whenever he was passing through and then decided to create a room on her roof for him so he could have a place to overnight.
We don't know this precious woman's name, but we do know that she was well-to-do. And that she gave her material blessings away freely.
When Elisha asked what he could do for her in return, she offered no ideas. She didn't need him to speak on her behalf to the king or commander of the army because she had a home among her own people. It was Elisha's servant Gehazi who came up with the idea that this childless woman with an elderly husband could use a son. So that's what Elisha promised her. But this woman, who loved to meet others' needs, didn't want to hope for what seemed impossible.
Was she hiding behind the “Oh, I'm just fine. I don't need anything” facade? Was her fear to dream keeping her from expressing her true heart's desire? If I don't allow myself to hope, I won't ever be disappointed.
Can't you feel God's love for this woman? Unlike Hannah, who had unashamedly poured out her heart to the Lord begging Him for a son, this woman had buried her desire and resigned herself to a lifetime of barrenness.
But God in His goodness chose to give her what she was too afraid to ask for.
In spite of her objections Elisha proclaimed God's promise to her, and a year later she gave birth to a son.
Was she afraid to love him with all of her heart? Afraid of what might happen to him?
How did she feel when her young gift of a son returned early from the fields, carried by a servant, complaining of severe pain in his head? Did she cry out to God to heal him in the heart-wrenching hours that she held him in her arms? Did she ask Him to take her life too as this beautiful boy exhaled his final breath?
She had a plan. Find the man of God.
Her husband's response reminds me of Hannah's husband, pretty dense and insensitive. Hannah's husband couldn't begin to comprehend her intense desire for a son and asked her, “Don't I mean more to you than 10 sons?” (1 Samuel 1:8) This woman's husband said, “Why go to the man of God today?”
She didn't bother to explain to him what she needed to do. “It's all right,” she said.
And when she first met Gehazi, who hurried out to meet her, she told him the same thing, “Everything is all right.”
She didn't want to bear her pain to those she didn't trust.
But when she reached Elisha, she fell prostrate and took hold of his feet. Can you see into this dear mother's heart? She had received what she had always wanted but was too afraid to ask for, and then just as unexpectedly, this gift was snatched away from her. It came out in an accusation, “Did I ask you for a son, my lord? Didn't I tell you, 'Don't raise my hopes'?”
Behind her accusation was pain. Too deep for her to even understand. Her heart's desire had been uncovered and then killed.
This was exactly why for so long she had refused to hope. Because she didn't want to experience such excruciating pain.
But now the pain was here. And she laid it at the feet of the man of God who had spoken this gift of pain into existence.
Elisha sent Gehazi to run ahead with his staff so that he could lay it on the boy's face. But the mother refused to leave Elisha, so he returned home with her. There they found that Gehazi had been unable to awaken the boy, so Elisha entered the room, prayed, and twice stretched himself out on top the boy so that the blood began to flow once more through the lifeless body that had already grown cold.
What happened in this woman's heart when Elisha presented her resurrected son to her? I want to ask her one day. The records simply say, “She came in, fell at his feet and bowed to the ground. Then she took her son and went out.” In those moments of laying at his feet, did she feel relief, gratitude, renewed hope in the God who had brought such joy and then unspeakable pain into her life?
She appears again a few chapters later, in 2 Kings 8. Elisha had advised her to find shelter elsewhere during the seven years of famine that the Lord had decreed, so she and her family had lived in the land of the Philistines. She was on her way back to her homeland, ready to beg the king to return her home and her land to her, when the king asked Gehazi to tell him of all the great things Elisha had done. Talk about timing. Just as Gehazi finished the story of Elisha's returning her dead son to life, this mother enters the room. She shared her own testimony of this story (I would have loved to have heard that too) and the king restored to her all that had been hers.
This woman who when we first meet her says, “Oh, I'm just fine. I don't need anything” is now ready to beg the king for her home and her land. She is now willing to express her desires, even beg for them. This hero of a mother knows the pain that comes from daring to hope. She has lived through the fear of the worst possible outcome. And has embraced the courage it takes to have met that nightmare face-to-face. She has experienced the unimaginable joy of beholding her dead son returned to life. And she has made the choice not to bury her desires anymore. Or to hide behind the facade of “Everything is all right.” This woman has been transformed.
Now instead of cowering behind her mantra, If I don't allow myself to hope, I won't ever be disappointed, I think she would bravely say, “If I never allow myself to hope, I may protect myself from some pain. But I'll never see all that God wants to do in my life.”
When Jesus encountered blind Bartimaeus on the side of the road, who was unashamedly shouting at the top of his voice, begging the Son of David for mercy, He asked him what seemed like an obvious question:“What do you want me to do for you? (Mark 10:51) To which Baritmeaus didn't need to think twice. “I want to see.”
I believe today Jesus wants us to name our desires too. How would you answer His question, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the topic of Facade.