“Anna, a prophet, was also there in the Temple. She was the daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher, and she was very old. Her husband died when they had been married only seven years. Then she lived as a widow to the age of 84. She never left the temple but stayed there day and night, worshiping God with fasting and prayer.”
I’ve read this passage of scripture dozens of times, but–as often happens with scripture–when I read it this morning, I felt like I was reading it for the first time. Instead of it just being one more power point in the story of Jesus’ birth, I saw Anna’s story. I read this clinical account of her life, and was hit with such empathy for this woman that tears came to my eyes.
She became a widow after only 7 years of marriage.
I just celebrated my 7 year wedding anniversary 2 months ago. I can’t imagine losing my husband right now, and suddenly being left to face the rest of my life alone.
Knowing how young most women were when they got married back then, I am probably older at 28 than Anna was when she lost her husband. Can you imagine that, friends? Losing your spouse in your mid twenties, a time when you are supposed to be in the prime of your life?
What had been this woman’s dream for her life, when she was a bride to be?
Had she dreamt of having children?
Did she have a talent for cooking that she loved to share with friends and family?
Maybe she loved making pottery. Perhaps she dreamed of selling her creations in the marketplace, with her children by her side, helping to create a small family business.
Did she love her husband? She never remarried after he died, which was odd for that time period, since women depended on their husbands to provide solely for them. She was very young when she was widowed; she undoubtedly could have found another husband. So I have to assume that she had loved him very much indeed.
What dreams did they whisper to one another in the dark? What had they hoped their life together would look like? How close did they get to accomplishing their dreams before the ground was pulled from underneath them?
Scripture does not tell us if they ever had any children. But if she had been living in the temple ever since becoming a widow, it’s likely that there were no children. Her husband was her whole family. He was everything she had. And he was taken away from her after only 7 short years of marriage.
Her story reminds me of the one told in Disney’s movie Up of Carl and Ellie. Two people in love, who marry young. They dream of having a family of their own, only to be heartbroken to discover that they can’t have kids. But they still have each other, and so they make new dreams together. Except instead of being able to live a long life together like the fictional characters, Anna and her husband are forever separated before a single grey hair sprouts.
We may not know much of anything about this woman, but we know this: when she had every right to hate God for the grief that had been dealt to her, she chose to praise Him instead. Whether her decision to not remarry had come from a deep love for her husband or not, she chose to accept the life that God was giving her, instead of pining away for the life she wished she had. When all of her plans and dreams were burned to ash, she did not crawl into the pit of self pity like so many of us do, crying about how unfair it was that she was not able to live the life that she wanted. Instead, this brave woman let go of her dreams and with a bowed head and uplifted arms, asked God, “What is Your plan for my life?” Then she wiped the tears from her eyes, got up, and bravely lived a life in solitude that was completely devoted to God.
What an incredible role model hidden away for us to find.
When given immense sorrow, Anna chose to praise God, because she knew He was still good.
After losing everything, Anna chose to trust that God still had plans for her life.
And so it was that a woman learned that sometimes what seems like the end of the world is really just a turn down a road she didn’t expect. It may have been a far cry from the life that she had envisioned for herself in her youth, but that does not mean that it was a life wasted. Anna was repaid ten fold for her devotion and faith when she got to see and hold the Messiah. She may have had to wait until she was very old. She may have had to endure many hardships, and learn to live on hardly anything. But she got to hold the Prince of Peace in her very own arms and be told by God Himself how that little baby was going to grow up to save all of humanity.
So perhaps losing her husband in her youth was not the worst thing ever.
My life is nothing like what I planned when I was young. It has been much harder than I could have ever imagined, and there have been many times when I fell into self pity because things were not going the way I wanted them to. But despite all the harships I have been dealt, God has also given me great joy.
So perhaps my husband’s bipolar diagnosis was not the worst thing ever.
A month ago, I was at a memorial service for a friend who lost her battle with cancer at the tender age of 31. There was a part of the service in which her words regarding her own life were recited. She said that even though the last 3 years of her life were immensely hard, and even though it was far from what she had planned for her life, they had also been the happiest 3 years of her life, because she got to spend them with the man she loved, whom she would not have met had she not gotten cancer. “So maybe getting cancer was not the worst thing ever”, she had said.
I am sure your life is not what you thought it would be either. Or if it is, I’m sure that it’s not as satisfying as you thought it would be. That’s just the way of life, I am learning. But I’m sure that you could also sing praises about how good God has been to you.
So perhaps getting cancer / losing your job / failing in your start up business / fill in the blank– is not the worst thing ever.
Please don’t forget, no matter how hard life gets, no matter how lost you may feel: God still sees you. His plan may be in a completely different time zone than your plan, but I promise you it will bring you blessings and joy. But only if you let it.
May we all learn the lesson of Anna: as long as we are still living, the world is not yet ending. We can endure it. We can be happy again one day. Most importantly–just because our lives do not look like what we planned, does not mean that they are wasted.
And maybe, whatever it is that you are struggling through, is not the worst thing ever.