The mother of one of the most influential men in history, and the Christian world, Elizabeth held a role of great importance. Though the text is quite short in the Gospel of Luke and nonexistent anywhere else, Elizabeth’s story comes to life vividly. Portrayed in films, books, sermons, and everywhere else in between, what can we learn from her character and actions?
Each time I read her story, I see something new. I could probably read her story twenty more times and find twenty new things. Her inclusion in the Luke’s story sets a ton of inspiration for many women.
We do not hear much about Elizabeth’s life before her pregnancy with John the Baptist, so we know little about her past. What we do know that now she is an old woman with no children married to a priest of God. She, like her husband, comes from the priesthood line. Many readers stop there, and do not think more on Elizabeth. I challenge you to think about the various things we learn from these dry facts.
The Authorized King James Version of the Bible states that both Elizabeth and Zacharias were “now well stricken in years”. The Living Bible says merely, “they were very old.” No matter how one reads the text, the point seems very clear in that these two were advanced in years.
We live in a time where women are easily and safely capable of childbirth in their 40’s. A good friend of mine in her mid-40’s just gave birth to her 11th child. I went the route of having my kids while young and stupid. The reason this plan has any popularity, other than people just do not know any better, is the parents supposedly have enough energy to keep up with the children. Children, however, are little vampires that suck away any and all energy from the world around them. No matter how young or old you are, you feel about a thousand years old when attempting in vain to keep up with a child. All the same, the descriptions of Elizabeth and Zacharias make me picture someone far older than possibly their 40’s. Many scholars think this is the case, stating that Elizabeth was well past the age of menopause. John was no change of life baby. Imagine the surprise!
Pregnancy takes a lot out of a woman, no matter what age she might be, as does raising a child. This couple, long past the normal age of childrearing, now found themselves defying all odds. It is little wonder that Zacharias struggled with doubt, can you blame him? “Oh no Lord, we lost out on that chance and have come to live with it!” However, we are not discussing him at this moment.
Today, the tabloids would break down their doors. This couple would never manage to shake off the news cameras. “Geriatric Woman Pregnant” might be the headlines. “Octogenarian Gives Birth” might be another. People love a good gossip story, and this one takes the cake. And oh how the gossip would fly. I can see the sewing circles now. “Did you hear about Elizabeth? What IS she thinking?” Oh dear!
I look at Elizabeth’s reaction to her interesting new circumstances. She never once questioned the miracle in her life, that we know of. That seemed left to her husband. Every evidence points to she just accepted this fact and went with it. “So what if menopause was 25 years ago? God can do anything, why not give me a baby?” We may never know if she wondered what on earth she’d gotten into. Would I be so willing to go with something that seemed quite so impossible if the Lord willed it? Once finding myself in the situation could I believe myself truly capable?
The story does not end with their age. Both Elizabeth and Zacharias came from the tribe holding the priesthood of God. At that time, you could not just decide to become a priest for your God. None of the “I felt called” you get today. Priesthood was not open to anyone wanting to serve their Lord. The mantle of the priesthood traveled through bloodline. It is not bad enough no one would carry on the family name of Zacharias, there was no one for him to pass his priesthood to. Talk about a double whammy.
This was not a time like today. No fertility treatments, no sperm banks, no surrogates at their disposal for this couple! Zacharias, at least, had his duties as a priest to fill his time. What about Elizabeth? She could not just decide to pursue other things, making a life outside of the home. No working at a library or owning her own business. Women were defined by their ability to have children. To not have children always seemed to fall on the woman’s shoulders and the burden heavy indeed.
This is one of the few things that we find Elizabeth quoted on. The Living Bible says, “How kind the Lord is,” she exclaimed, “to take away my disgrace of having no children!” In other versions you see the phrase, “take away my reproach among men.”
She praises God, His mercy, His kindness before anything else. Never does she think to blame Him as some might. Never does she think it might be a trial to prove her faith. She takes the blame for bearing no children as though no one else could possibly have a thing to do with it.
Elizabeth had every reason to murmur against the Lord. “Lord, what were you thinking? Do I not make my husband dinner at 6:30 for when he comes home from a long day of doing Your will? Is this house not spick-and-span tidy at all times? Did I not just have the women over to discuss Your goodness? Why are you being so unfair to me? They talk about me behind my back! I’m a loser, I’m not even worthy of the dowry Zacharias paid my father for me! Why, oh Lord, why?”
She had every reason to complain about the timing. “Are you kidding me? I’m old, I’m tired, and I’m passed all that. Just how old do you want me to be when I deal with a teenager? Why couldn’t you do this for me like 40 years ago when all my friends were having babies and I felt so alone and left out? Thanks for a whole lot of nothing! Can’t you give at the appropriate time? My time?”
No, this is not Elizabeth. She exclaims, “How kind the Lord is!”
How hard to deal with infertility, how easy to blame yourself. Many women still feel ashamed concerning a lack of motherhood. “Why am I not good enough to have children?” The words of a friend struggling with infertility to me broke my heart. This is today, now think how infertility affected someone in Elizabeth’s world.
Are we as quick to praise God or do we curse His name because things are not following our plans? How can we take this example and look for ways to praise God, to recognize when He does bless us, to understand His will and His plan?
When the going gets tough, how do we respond? Do we humbly accept our lot in life and make the best of it or do we complain and blame God? Something like infertility may be something inadvertently our fault due to a biological make up, but there are plenty of bad things we choose to do in our lives that bring about negative consequences. Negative consequences generally leaves us seeking someone to blame other than ourselves for our ill fortune. Elizabeth did not blame God, she blamed herself.
Elizabeth put others before herself. She took in Mary, she helped her husband while he suffered through God’s punishment, I am sure the cases untold are plentiful. When going through a troubled time, helping others can turn out the best remedy to the situation, at least emotionally and spiritually. The feeling of joy when you make someone’s burden a touch easier can bring you out of any funk. It might not solve your problems, but it can sure make things tolerable. Serving others is possibly the best way to distract ourselves and keep busy.
We all have trials in our life. At the time we go through them, they seem insurmountable. It does not matter if you just stubbed a toe or if you find yourself drowning in debt or if someone you love just died. Whatever your trial is, it takes up your field of vision while you go through it and appears as though nothing could be any worse.
How will you be remembered for your trials? Let us each strive to follow Elizabeth’s example. We may never know how hard she struggled, and that is OK. We do not need to share every painful moment of every day with the world around us. Perhaps we can take her example and put others before ourselves, to lighten another’s load.
In Titus chapter 2, we learn proper behavior for men and women of the church. Older women specifically find counsel to mentor, teach, help the younger women around them. Though written after Elizabeth’s time, her example is one to mimic.
With her relationship to Mary at the time of their mutual pregnancies, one realizes mentoring is nothing new to Elizabeth. Not having daughters of her own did not phase Elizabeth in the least. Mary was only one of many that Elizabeth encouraged.
“It takes a village to raise a child.” How many times have you heard this African proverb? Once? Twice? A dozen? The truth in the statement can enrich your lives! Mothers rely on their friends, husband, parents, older children to aid in the raising of sons and daughters. We often do not realize our reliance on advice or the simple act of babysitting. Imagine a world where you had no help, imagine back to Eve! How could you survive?
In this modern age, many are quick to discount the thoughts and advice of those not in their situation. They view ignorance as something crippling and making the person utterly useless. “You can never understand, maybe if you have children of your own you would.” No matter what walk of life a person chooses, or has chosen for them, they can still give sound advice.
Maybe Elizabeth saw some of this, maybe she did not. Elizabeth spent many years hearing the stories of other women, witnessing decisions that go awry or work out in the end. Perhaps she watched littles while the mothers went to wash laundry. Maybe, once her own chores were done, she aided the new mothers with their housework. As each year passed, she gained knowledge and wisdom from just living and watching the world around her.
How did spending three months with Elizabeth affect Mary’s own mothering? How much did she learn from her older relative?
In my own life, I have several women that I feel helped me as my own personal Elizabeths. Always ready, these women doled out advice whenever I asked. What’s a great way to make a turkey for Thanksgiving? How can I handle the medical needs of a child with cancer? How do I deal with this problem with my husband? I thank God every day for the women He placed in my life. They taught me how to be a woman, how to be a mother, how to be a daughter.
My own middle name happens to be Elizabeth. My grandmother’s name was Betty, so you can see where the name came from. I love my grandmother and the example she was to me.
Spending some time with Elizabeth, I see a whole lot of her in my grandma. To the example set by Elizabeth some two thousand years ago? Two women with the same name, two fine examples in my
life, can I live up to their name?
I want to take Elizabeth into myself, make her a part of who I am. When the going gets rough, I want to praise God for His mighty works and blessings in my life. When a woman needs aid, I want to offer it. Perhaps, one day, I can mentor as Elizabeth did. The “E.” in my signature will act as a constant reminder to put others first and turn my praises to God.
Have you been an Elizabeth to someone in need today?