Have you ever wanted something so badly that it hurt to talk about it?
Have you ever been disappointed so many times that you eventually give up hope and resolve that you’re never going to have your heart’s desire? After burying your dream and putting it to rest, you just can’t bear to let your mind to there. It’s just too hard.
The next time we see the word “Hope” mentioned in the Bible, it’s spoken by a woman who finds herself in this situation. Yet, when you first meet her, you’d never know it.
“One day Elisha passed through Shunem. A leading lady of the town talked him into stopping for a meal. And then it became his custom: Whenever he passed through, he stopped by for a meal.
“I’m certain,” said the woman to her husband, “that this man who stops by with us all the time is a holy man of God. Why don’t we add on a small room upstairs and furnish it with a bed and desk, chair and lamp, so that when he comes by he can stay with us?” (2 Kings 4:8-10 Message)
To many people, it appeared that she had everything. Jewish history tells us that she was the mistress of the wealthiest house in the area. However, as we will see, her greatest asset was not her possessions, but her intense faith in God.
I believe it was this love for God that led her to go above and beyond the normal duties of a hostess and urge her husband to create a private apartment for the prophet to stay in whenever he was in the area.
What a gift this was to Elisha! A comfortable place with a private entrance that he could call his own! A retreat for him to rest, spend time with God, and rejuvenate himself to continue his duties as the prophet.
One day, out of gratitude he wanted to find a way to repay his hostess’ kindness.
“And so it happened that the next time Elisha came by he went to the room and lay down for a nap.
Then he said to his servant Gehazi, ‘Tell the Shunammite woman I want to see her.’ He called her and she came to him.
Through Gehazi Elisha said, ‘You’ve gone far beyond the call of duty in taking care of us; what can we do for you? Do you have a request we can bring to the king or to the commander of the army?’
She replied, ‘Nothing. I’m secure and satisfied in my family.’” (2 Kings 4:11-13)
These verses show that the Shunammite woman provided for Elisha with no ulterior motives. She wasn’t trying to manipulate a miracle or work things out to her own ends. Her intent was 100% pure---she wanted to serve God by offering unbridled hospitality to the man of God.
Given the opportunity to ask for whatever she wanted, she said, “I’m fine. I have everything I need.”
Still, it was pretty obvious that she didn’t, as Gehazi points out to Elisha.
“Elisha conferred with Gehazi: “There’s got to be something we can do for her. But what?”
Gehazi said, “Well, she has no son, and her husband is an old man.”
It’s almost as if Gehazi is saying, “Duh, Elisha, open your eyes to the obvious. She’s has no children and her husband is old. What do you think she wants?”
I mean, it should have been apparent. Every Jewish woman wanted to have a child. In ancient times, barrenness was a source of shame and disgrace. Hidden among the grandness of the estate and the influence of the family was the silent pain that there was no heir to receive the inheritance. It was the elephant in the room. Yet for some reason, Elisha didn’t notice it and his hostess didn’t mention it.
We don’t have to wait long to find out why she didn’t bring it up.
“Call her in,” said Elisha. He called her and she stood at the open door.
Elisha said to her, “This time next year you’re going to be nursing an infant son.”
“O my master, O Holy Man,” she said, “don’t play games with me, teasing me with such fantasies!” (2 Kings 4:15-16 Message)
The NIV version says, “No, my lord!” she objected. “Please, man of God, don’t mislead your servant!”
“Please don’t go there.”
“I know it’s hopeless, you know it’s hopeless….I can’t get my hopes up again….I’ve just been disappointed too many times.”
“Don’t lie to me filling my head with dreams of what could be just to have my hopes crushed again. I just can’t”.
And that’s where the conversation ends.
Notice that the prophet doesn’t preach to her about faith or try to convince her that nothing’s ever going to change with that attitude. He doesn’t judge her or criticize her.
More importantly, God doesn’t withhold her miracle until she has a better attitude.
“But the woman became pregnant, and the next year about that same time she gave birth to a son, just as Elisha had told her.” (2 Kings 4:17)
I absolutely love this----because it shows me that somewhere in the heart of God, He understands disappointment. He understands the human heart that’s flown high with hope and expectation only to crash so many times before that it just can’t think about flying again.
He doesn’t punish the pain or criticize the woman for a lack of faith. Instead, He saw the heart of a woman who just couldn’t hope for a child, yet she had enough faith to love and serve God even when she knew she could never have her heart’s desire.
This truth gives hope to all of us who struggle with the pain of disappointment.
Being completely open, I have to admit that there are areas of my life where I can relate to the Shunammite woman. A few months ago, I was reading “The Circle Maker” by Mark Batterson (an absolutely amazing book). When it came to the part of the process where you are supposed to write down your greatest desires and needs to pray circles around them, I have to admit that I struggled. Because like the woman in this passage, there are areas of my life where I’ve prayed and hoped and dreamed so many times only to be disappointed that it actually hurts to even write down the words let alone once again bring my request to God.
It brings me comfort to see in this passage that God understands. Even more, He sees beyond the pain of disappointment, and rewards the heart that loves Him enough to serve Him anyway.
Because this is the second lesson we can learn from the Shunammite woman: Even though she resolved that she would probably never get what she wanted, she wasn’t consumed with anger and bitterness. Her life didn’t center around her disappointment.
Instead, she learned to be content in her circumstances. Out of that contentment, she gave herself extravagantly to God and served Him in the best way she could. She did it not so that God would change her situation, but in spite of her situation.
God saw this heart of love and He honored it.
These truths give me hope.
Hope that God sees my heart even when it is blinded by disappointment.
Hope that God’s plan for my life isn’t dependent on my ability to conjure up some hyperactive faith, but rather, that God honors true devotion and sacrifice that comes out of a heart of love for Him.
Perhaps today, you find yourself relating to the Shunammite woman.
You’ve prayed, waited, trusted, and believed so long that you just can’t stand the pain of disappointment anymore.
Even though you love God with all of your heart, you’ve buried your dream and moved on.
Maybe just hearing the word “Hope” causes a strange twinge of pain and guilt.
Today, I pray that the story of the Shunammite woman will remove the guilt and help you find joy in your journey.
I pray that in her life you’ll see God’s heart understanding your pain and seeing beyond it into your heart.
Through her journey, I pray you’ll find inspiration that it’s okay to find contentment in your current situation and wholeheartedly serve God in whatever place He has you. In fact, it’s the right decision.
But mostly, I hope that her life will help you understand that your miracle, your destiny, and your dream aren’t dependant on reaching some level of faith, but rather God is looking to reward your faithfulness to Him whether your dream comes true or not.
When we leave the results our lives to God and serve Him with the pure motive of love whether we get what we want or not, that’s when we can truly have HOPE that God will do what is best for us and for His kingdom.
In this truth, each of us can find hope.