Once, very long ago, there was a woman who thought she had everything. She was strong. She was wealthy. She was loved. And though her husband was much older, he listened to her opinions and gave her the freedom to do as she saw fit, even though that wasn’t common then.
True, most women of her day had children and she didn’t, but wasn’t she blessed? Didn’t she have an important place in her world? Weren’t all her needs met? She took pride in being the kind of woman who didn’t pity herself. Instead, she looked for ways to help others, and everyone admired her for it.
One day a man with a reputation came to the woman’s town. Everyone knew that this man actually spoke to God and that God had given him special powers. He’d supposedly cleansed a poisoned well and parted a rushing river and made food where there had been none. But where his miracles made him famous, his teaching made him unpopular. The king hated the man, and he wandered around homeless, getting made fun of for his bald head and odd mannerisms.
The woman was moved by the life of the man of God. She invited him to a meal and fed him well; but that seemed too small a gesture. The man of God was lonely and often overwhelmed.
With her husband’s approval, the woman had workmen build an extra room on the second floor of her house. She put in a bed and a chair for comfort, a table to eat in privacy and a lamp for light on the darkest night. Then she told the man of God that it was his very own. Whenever he came to her town, he would have his own place to rest.
The man of God was overcome by this kindness. He was tired of sleeping outside or in crowded rooms. The very thought of privacy and comfort in the midst of his life eased some of the tension he carried. She had seen exactly what he needed before he even acknowledged it himself.
He wanted to find a way to express his gratitude to the woman. And since he had access to vast power, he expected for her to jump at the chance to ask for anything she wanted.
But she wanted nothing. She already had all that she needed. It felt good to her to be able to say this, to be the one person who could help the man of God and ask for nothing in return.
But the man of God couldn’t accept that. He asked around about what the woman might need. That’s when someone told him that she had no children and that her husband was getting quite old, so there was little possibility of her ever having any. The man of God knew then what the woman needed.
He called her in and told her that he was going to ask God to give her a child. He told her that in one year’s time, she would have a son in her arms.
The woman had long ago surrendered the dream of being a mother. She had made her peace with childlessness. Truthfully, it had felt easier to stop imagining; less painful not to hope. To be told now that the secret desire of her heart would be granted filled her with longing again, and with that longing came fear. She believed that he meant his promise, but she could not believe that it could possibly come true. It seemed cruel for the man whom she had helped so much to destroy her contentment in this way, and she told him so plainly.
But beyond all hope, she got pregnant. Beyond all expectation, the pregnancy was smooth, and the baby was born strong and healthy and active. A son.
Her son brought happiness the woman hadn’t known she lacked. Brought a depth of emotions – fear, elation, devotion, worry – that she had stopped even dreaming to have.
Years passed. The boy grew. His father was proud. His mother was full of joy.
Then one day, out of nowhere, the boy complained of a headache. When he first told his father, out in the fields where they were working, his father said just to rest a minute and it would pass.
His father’s workers carried the boy in to his mother. She cuddled him and cared for him, but the pain only got worse. Even as she held him in her arms, fear filling her heart, he grew weaker.
The woman had never known helplessness like this. This boy – who was her whole heart, who had changed her world – was in pain. Something was happening inside of him that she couldn’t see, couldn’t touch, couldn’t change. She was too overwhelmed even to know how to pray.
A few hours later, the boy was dead.
One minute, alive in her arms, his sweet breath tickling her skin. The next minute, unnaturally still. Impossibly gone.
In an instant, the woman’s terror turned to fury.
Her anger, kept tightly under control, lent her strength to climb the stairs and rest the boy’s body on the man of God’s bed. Her rage, burning slowly, gave her resolve as she convinced her husband to saddle her a donkey and let her go on a trip. He tried to talk her out of it, but he could see this wasn’t a time to stand in her way.
The woman rode without stopping to the place where she would find the man of God.
His servant came out to meet her and asked what was wrong, but she had no intention of talking to a servant. There was only one person she wanted to see.
Finally she reached him, and her fury was unleashed. The woman threw herself at the man of God in a rage. The servant tried to stop her, but the man of God waved him away. He knew something was seriously wrong.
When finally she collapsed at his feet, the words spewed out of her mouth. “I didn’t ask for any of this. I didn’t ask you for a child. Didn’t I tell you not to raise my hopes? Didn’t I tell you not to make things worse? How could you do this to me?”
The man of God saw at once what had happened. He knew the power of God was needed now.
He couldn’t move quickly, so he gave his staff to his servant and told him to run, stopping for nothing, and put the staff on the boy’s body. God’s power was so great that it could heal through anything and anyone. The man of God didn’t need to be physically present.
He tried to send the mother with the servant. On her donkey, she would be able to keep up.
But she refused to go away with just a promise. She had been down that road. Now all she wanted was for the man to see what he had done, to feel the pain that she felt. She wouldn’t return home until he went with her.
So the man of God walked her all the way home. It took a long time. By the time they arrived, the servant had already followed all his instructions. The staff was on the boy.
Nothing had happened.
It was just as the woman expected. Hope had been pointless. Hope had been cruel.
But the man of God had seen too much of God’s power to accept that. He knew what God could do, and he had believed God wanted to do it. Hope in God’s mercy had sustained him through an unhappy, wandering life.
He went up to the room and closed the door behind him.
No tools would do now. No staff. No cloak. Just himself.
The man of God stretched himself out over the boy, breathing into him with his own breath, willing his own life into the body. Nothing happened.
The man of God stood and began to pace the room, unwilling to give up hope. He prayed as he had never prayed before.
He stretched himself over the boy again. In the room where God had showed him that God understood weakness. That God had compassion for human frailty. In the place of rest, that would never be restful again if it was poisoned with death.
He begged for mercy. For hope. For life.
The boy sneezed.
It was so explosively … ordinary. In such a tense moment, almost ridiculous.
The man of God jumped up and stared. In hysterical relief, he laughed a little.
And the boy kept sneezing. Big, wet achoos, seven in a row. And when he was done, he opened his eyes and looked around.
The man of God stopped his laughter and called for the mother.
Downstairs, the woman had been clutching her anger close to keep her grief away. She’d been taking grim satisfaction in the thought of the man of God in that once-happy room with the reminder of exactly what he had done to her lying before him. Just as her unasked-for gift had been taken away, so would his.
When the servant came to get her, she almost didn’t go. Something in his voice told her that he wanted her to hope again; but her heart, worn out from all that had happened to it in the last day, couldn’t take any more.
Still, her boy. Her son. The one thing she hadn’t thought she would ever have. The thing God had imagined for her when she hadn’t known how to imagine it for herself.
She went upstairs.
The room was quiet. It took all she had to open the door.
There was the man of God, pale and exhausted, with kindness in his eyes.
“Take your son,” he said.
And there was her boy, sitting up on the bed, sniffling and very much alive.
She collapsed onto the floor for a moment. Unimaginable… impossible… How could…? Who would…? What kind of God…?
It was too much to wrap her mind around and too much for her heart to handle, so her arms did the work on their own.
She picked up her son and carried him out into the night.
Adapted from 2 Kings 4:8-37.