How Two Little Words Show Our Actions Do Not Determine God’s Gifts
In the earlier years of my life, I was on a quest to be perfect. Like many Christian girls in the late nineties, early 2000s, I had completely bought into the purity culture movement. I had kissed dating goodbye at age 11 and totally believed that my true love waited for me, probably until just before college graduation so we could get married right after college, have ten kids by the time I was 30, and start some sort of Christian commune. I had read every 2000s era book out there on Christian dating and thought I knew what I was doing.
Implicitly (and in some cases explicitly) many of the books out at that time taught that only after you were totally content with your life as a single would God bring you a spouse. I was trying my very hardest to be content. I was praying for contentment. The problem was, I couldn’t be completely content. I wanted a relationship. I couldn’t even imagine being completely content until I was in one. I was wanting to be content only so that by achieving contentment, I could get what I really wanted. Needless to say, this wasn’t true contentment and it wasn’t working.
I studied Bible and Theology in college. As a part of my studies, I decided to take Hebrew, because, you know, that’s what all the cool kids are doing these days. As I struggled through translation assignments, all the while thinking about my contentment issues and looking for fresh answers, I was struck by a particular passage in Genesis. It was in Genesis chapter 30, where it talks about Jacob and his two sister wives, Leah and Rachel.
Leah was unloved by Jacob. He had never wanted to marry her. However, she just kept having more and more sons, a symbol of great honor in that society and time. Jacob loved Rachel deeply, but she was barren. At the very beginning of chapter 30, in verse 1, she says to Jacob, “Give me children or I’ll die.” These are not the words of a content woman. 22 verses later, the text says, “Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and opened her womb.” Nowhere in those interceding 22 verses there any sort of indication that Rachel becomes more content. Quite the opposite. She keeps trying to finagle her way into having children in those verses, even giving her maid to Jacob to have kids with. Obviously, she’s nowhere near being content, yet God remembers her anyway.
I found this same phrasing in 1 Samuel 1 in the story of Hannah, another woman who desperately wanted children. She was so upset about it during her prayers in the tabernacle that the priest Eli thought she was drunk. Not a content woman. Yet God remembers her and not only gives her a son, Samuel, who she consecrates to the Lord, but he gives her other children as well. Once again, God remembers her in spite of her obvious lack of contentment.
This same phrase is used about the groaning of the people of Israel in Exodus 2:24-25 when they were enslaved. Obviously they are not content in their slavery. Who would be? Regardless, God finally listens to their cries, he remembers them, and he sends Moses to bring them out of Egypt. There seems to be a pattern here, and it has next to nothing to do with contentment or right behavior. It has everything to do with God and his own mysterious timing.
Based on these verses, I started praying that God would remember me and intercede on my behalf. In Hebrew, the word for the phrase “remember me” is זכר'(which is pronounced Za-CAR-ee, kind of like a person with a fake French accent saying “the car” and then the letter “e”). I would pray this prayer over and over. After all, if I was praying in the language of the people of Israel, that should count for something, right? (I didn’t actually think God was more likely to listen to me because of that, for the record). I would like to say that things got better afterwards, that God remembered me, and I lived happily ever after, but I didn’t.
A few years later, I totally gave up on contentment and even on trying to be “good” and do things God’s way. I did several things I’m not proud of because I was sick of waiting. I was disappointed that despite my good actions, God hadn’t done anything to bring me love and romance. He hadn’t remembered me at all. I had tried my hardest and nothing and happened, so I just gave up. Finally, only after I had failed in all my efforts, good and bad, did God remember me. It had nothing to do with my behavior or contentment level. Despite this, God stepped in and brought me and my husband together through a very long story that I don’t have time for here.
Perhaps the most ironic thing about this story, and something I didn’t even think of before writing this is that my husband’s name is Zachary, which is an Americanized version of the Hebrew word for “God remembers”. All those nights in my apartment crying out Hebrew prayers I wasn’t just begging God for something, I was saying my future husband’s name. God had been remembering me the whole time, his timing just wasn’t what I had had in mind.
What are you begging God for? Why do you want God to remember you? We all have unmet desires in our hearts that seem like something God would smile upon, but just aren’t happening or seem to ever be likely to happen. Maybe, like me, you long for a relationship. Maybe you long for a child. Maybe it’s a fulfilling career, a best friend, a clear vision, a physical healing, a financial breakthrough. It could be any number of things.
While of course we should try to make wise choices and obey God with our lives (I’m not endorsing license here people), remember that ultimately, every good and perfect gift comes from God. His ways and his time are not our ways and our time. Instead of beating ourselves up or trying to figure out what we’re doing wrong (which, by the way, may very well be nothing), we should just simply pray, “God, remember me.” It might not solve anything in the short term (or the long term, for that matter), but at least we leave it in God’s hands instead of trying to earn it for ourselves. That’s ultimately what grace is all about, getting what we don’t deserve.