What to Do When Life is Hard: Dr. Julia Bickley
As women, we often find ourselves in a variety of unexpected, unwanted circumstances: the loss of a friend, the loss of a parent, singleness, widowhood, barrenness, cancer . . . the list goes on. As Christians, how do we respond when life becomes something we didn’t dream about as little girls? The story of Anna, found in Luke 2:36-38, provides a picture of a woman in an unexpected circumstance and her life reminds us that worshipping Jesus and witnessing for Jesus are a great comfort when life is hard.
Take a moment to read Luke 2:36-38.
Verses 36-38 tell us about Anna being present at the temple when Joseph and Mary came there after Jesus’s birth and her story fits in well with the purpose of the book of Luke, which was written “so . . . readers would understand that the Gospel is for all, both Jews and Gentiles alike” (ESV Study Bible). Not only is the Gospel for Jews and Gentiles, but it is also for men and women alike. Anna reflects the inclusionary nature of the Gospel as she was blessed to see the coming of the long-awaited Messiah. Notice Anna’s unexpected widowhood, her worship, and her witness.
An Unexpected Widow – verse 36
Many pictures of Anna are found in verse 36. She is described as a prophetess, her father’s name is provided, as well as the Jewish tribe from which she came. Yet none of those descriptors hit the heart like the one found in verses 36-37: “she was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.” In other words, Anna’s husband died after seven short years of marriage, and then she lived the rest of her life on earth as a widow. We can assume that Anna was saddened to find herself alone, like any woman would be, after only seven years of marriage.
Anna’s grief may have been compounded by a concern for her future, wondering how she might provide for herself. We know that women in New Testament times were financially dependent upon male family members. However, because the text tells us that she was consistent in prayer and fasting (verse 37), we can be certain that in sadness or in want of provision, Anna had faith in God. Maybe she was reminded of the Psalms and how they describe Yahweh as the Protector and Upholder of the widow (Psalm 68:5, 146:9). Hers is a story of reassurance for us: if you are living through a heartbreaking, unexpected circumstance, know today of Jesus’s compassionate love toward women in need: He is your Protector and Upholder.
An Expectant Worshiper – verse 37
Anna may have been an unexpected widow, but she was also an expectant worshiper. Verse 37 says, “She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.” What was she expecting in all her prayers and fasting? Consider what was culminating when the narrative of Luke’s Gospel begins. Israel had received a promise from the Lord of a coming Messiah who would crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15), who would reign on David’s throne (2 Samuel 7:12-13), and who would suffer as an atoning sacrifice (Isaiah 53). Verse 38 indicates that people were waiting at the temple “for the redemption of Jerusalem.” All these details indicate that God was doing a special work among the men and women alike, readying them for the coming Christ. Anna was expecting Jesus.
We may not have the promise of a coming Messiah in the way these saints did, yet we have a greater promise! Jesus will return for His church and set up His kingdom on earth. We should take courage because “Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him” (Hebrews 9:28). When life is hard, hope in and worship Jesus Who has promised to return for you, His bride.
An Eager Witness – verse 38
The story culminates in Anna’s witness for Christ. Having been at the temple day and night waiting for the coming Christ, she hears Simeon’s words to Joseph and Mary concerning Jesus. Her response was to bless God in praise and thanksgiving, and to “speak of Him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.” She was speaking of Jesus and the redemption found in Him. The word for redemption here is literally “ransom” meaning a life would be given in an act to save others from sin. Noting that this group of people was waiting for redemption for Israel, Matthew Henry comments that Anna, “told them all the good news, that she had seen the Lord; and it was great news….” Think of a friend or family member you know who does not know Jesus. Is your heart eager to share the good news of the Gospel with them? You will find that speaking the Gospel to others has a way of strengthening and encouraging your own heart when times are hard.
In this passage we see a woman who was an unexpected widow, who worshiped expectantly and witnessed eagerly. Being a biblical woman is not defined so much by your status in life but by worshiping and witnessing for Jesus, not matter the circumstance. Remember, God is faithful in painful heartbreak and Jesus is coming back. May you spend your life as a woman leveraging your gifts and current situation for the sake of His name.