Gather round kids for embarrassing stories of Paula’s youth. We’re getting personal as we talk about loooooove (Or, rather, lack of love, and what happens when you chase it away with a broomstick). It’s going to be a wild ride, as this episode was written in the middle of the night after waking up from a nightmare. Ha!
But that stuff is unimportant. What IS important is our journey through Genesis. This week we talk about Sarai, Abram’s wife and how she dealt with her own black moment. Turns out, the road to hell IS paved with good intentions. But before you bash this pair of old coots who tried to help God and made a mess of things, I want you to stop and THINK. I want you stop, and listen to this episode. It is important.
Essential oil of the week: Sandalwood, which is all kinds of good for the skin and respiratory system, and is a central component in religious ceremonies, but it is far easier to remember it as the one that is used as an aphrodisiac. Ooooooooo!
Check out more information at the Feels and Flowers website:
A word of warning: I’ve done some of my best and worst writing at ungodly hours of the morning. And Feels and Flowers episode 18 was written at 3 o’clock in the morning.
So… Here it goes.
After waking up from a dream like the one I just had, and after a decade of holding on to this… nonsense, I finally own up the truth I’ve been trying to avoid for a while now.
It’s time to move on.
— [THEME MUSIC] —
Hi! Welcome to Feels and Flowers, a Christian podcast where I share with you a gospel based entirely on love: Love God, love yourself, love others and where every week we cover the history and healing properties of a plant or essential oil. My name is Paula Perez.
We are continuing our chapter by chapter exploration of Genesis. Back in Episode 5 we talked about sacrifices and offerings which God finds acceptable and unacceptable as we studied the story of Cain and Abel. In this episode we will revisit the idea of sacrifices again as we talk about Sarai, Abram’s wife. They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, you see, and that proves to be the case in Genesis 16. It’s… a doozy.
But before that we have our Featured Flower segment. This week we’re talking about Sandalwood.
— [FLOWER MUSIC] —
“As if to prove that love would conquer hate, the sandalwood perfumes the very axe that lays it low.” Rabindranath Tagore
Sandalwood is a small to medium-sized semi-parasitic tree known for its fragrant heartwood and its richly-scented oil. The heartwood and the roots are both full of a yellow aromatic oil which gives the wood a fragrance that lasts even decades after it’s been cut.
Sandalwood has been used in funeral rites for millenia. Ancient Egyptians imported Sandalwood and used it for medicine–but most importantly–in embalming the dead and in ritual burning to venerate the gods. Additionally, it is customary in certain Hindu communities, to include a piece of sandalwood in the funeral pyre.
Medicinally, Sandalwood has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic, Tibetan, and Chinese medicine. Among its many helpful properties is that of being considered an aphrodisiac. Sandalwood elevates pulse rate, skin conductance level, systolic blood pressure, increases attentiveness and uplifts the mood. (Nice! Good job sandalwood!)
While there are as many as ten species of Sandalwood, disease and unsustainable harvesting practices have decimated the Sandalwood trees in many places, so it is important to purchase your wood or essential oil from companies that have responsible sourcing practices.
Learn some of my favorite ways to use sandalwood essential oil AND key benefits at the end of the episode. But for now let’s go back to Genesis 16.
— [END FLOWER MUSIC] —
To this day I don’t know for certain if it was love or simple admiration. All I know is that back in 2013 I was very interested in a guy and for about a summer and winter I fancied myself in love.
But of course if I WAS in love, I was in love all by myself.
After that first summer he went back to college and the next time I saw him was during the Christmas Eve service at the church when he returned to visit his parents for the holidays.
I was giddy and my pulse raced and there were butterflies in my stomach and electricity at my fingertips just at the THOUGHT that I was going to see him. I looked for him among the crowd after the service and THERE he was. He greeted me warmly. We hugged, and it was great seeing him again. But he was nice and friendly and cool and collected, and though we stood together for a while I just could not speak or say anything AT ALL.
I was so nervous!
So when someone came and began talking to him I withdrew and looked for my usual group of friends. I tried to be merry but ended up sitting dejectedly away from the noise. It was so bad that a guy friend put an arm around my shoulders as he laughed and conspiratorially whispered, what’s wrong Paula? Is it a guy? Who is it?
And…I wanted to cry!! SO embarrassing. Me at twenty-six behaving like some stupid girl mooning over someone YOUNGER than she.
It was beyond embarrassing. It was humiliating. So I collected myself and decided to put an end to the nonsense. Because it WAS nonsense, and because of COURSE I was not his type and, as if it weren’t enough, he’d told me that he saw me as a sister in Christ. Dear God that had sucked.
But the thing is, Adam was exactly my type. Unfortunately for me he was quite handsome. Dark wavy hair, heavy-lidded eyes, and a beautiful smile that lit up his surroundings. He was very kind and to me he seemed very wise. He taught me things too. He’d traveled and seen more of the world than I’d seen. And I will admit I have always been drawn to people with high and lofty ideals. Spiritual types, passionate types, types who love a cause. So given that he was studying theology and given that he was a devout Christian and was mission-oriented… well that kind of did it for me.
But I never told him. Of course not. I simply let time and distance do their job and eventually those feelings faded away, gently, quietly. We just lost touch. And even though I saw him again once a year and even though I always felt some kind of attraction to him, on the whole I put it behind me.
On episode 2 I joked about my love life, or lack thereof and blamed my mom for me still being single. But honestly, it’s not because of some curse from my childhood that my love life is a wasteland. It’s been entirely my own doing. I ran for the hills whenever I began feeling attracted to someone, never stuck around to see if the feeling was mutual, and ruthlessly cut out of my life any men who expressed their interest in me and tried to ask me out.
Don’t get me wrong, I always wanted to have someone to love and to hold and so on. I’m not anti-marriage. I think love is one of the most sublime things in this world. I am all for love. Romance is my favorite book genre. I’m a romantic to my core and I rejoice when I see people get their Happily Ever Afters.
But no one except you listener will know the silliness going on inside my head. Not only did I have low self esteem, but I also refused to participate in the dating game as a matter of principle.
Because, you see, I had made a pact.
I grew up believing that if you want something REALLY bad and sheer human effort and will is not enough, you have to strike a deal with God. Give him something in return so he can work the miracle in your life that you really need.
This is so stupid. I KNOW this is stupid. This is the whole point of this episode.
Just hear me out.
I grew up hearing stories of good, pious Christians from my local church who gave up something that they held dear or that was integral to their lives so that God would answer their prayers.
What did they give up? Once I heard the testimony of a man who swore he’d never step foot inside a bar again, never drink another drop of alcohol, if his wife recovered from terminal cancer. One woman, upon being born again, swore to never again wear makeup and to abandon the party lifestyle in exchange for God helping her to find a good Christian husband that met all these requirements, and by golly she got him. They are now my parents.
There are so many stories like that of people using grand gestures to get something out of God, and the greater the sacrifice, the more faith and piety the person is supposed to have or something. And this didn’t stop at giving up habits either.
There was this strange practice of some people at my church of putting aside a token amount every week–could have been a quarter, or a dollar, whatever you could afford–toward something they wanted God to help them with. And you know what? I am aware of several instances where it worked. I kid you not.
When God came though they brought hundreds of dollars to church coffers from the months and years they had been prayerfully putting aside that money toward the thing they asked for.
So, once upon a time, a younger and sillier me found herself in dire straits. And I cried for days and I prayed to God and my prayers kept going unanswered, so I decided to do something great. A grand gesture to match my great need and to bring God’s attention to how serious the situation was because God is an all-knowing God, but he needs to know how serious and urgent the situation is, right?
He needs to see us bleeding and sprawled on the floor with tears on our faces as we put ourselves, or the thing we most love on this earth, on the pyre for His approval, for Him to give us what we so desperately need…. Right?
I thought so, and Sarai, Abram’s wife, certainly thought so.
Genesis 16 reads like this:
1 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”
Abram agreed to what Sarai said. 3 So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. 4 He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.
So… yeah. That happened. I’ll talk about Hagar next week because boy is there a bunch to unravel there. This week I want to focus on Sarai.
Some Bible commentaires note that Sarai’s desire of offspring was not prompted by natural impulse. It wasn’t that she was desperate for a baby. She was motivated by the zeal of faith which made her wish to secure the promised blessing. God had said that Abram would himself father a child, but until then it had not been said that Sarai was to be the mother of that child. Poligamy was widespread in those days. As was surrogacy. [In fact Abram’s grandson Jacob would also go on to have children with his wive’s maidservants Bilhah and Zilpah].
And I know many people will say that Genesis 16 is a cautionary tale against trying to help God and that this is a good reminder that results are not enough to justify what we do before God.
And yeah. I agree. But I also think we underestimate the great faith and the deep, deep love of this woman. We don’t fully appreciate the grand gesture that was her willing to step back even if it meant giving up the glory of birthing the promised child. Yes, it was a very twisted way to do things, but Sarai’s recourse to what was a prevalent practice of the times, while unjustifiable in itself, could be read as a signal proof of her humility, of her devotion to her husband, and perhaps also of her faith in God. Abram did what Sarai told him to do, so he was also in the wrong. But still, I find myself agreeing with what a commentary by Calvin said about these two. “The faith of both was defective; not indeed with regard to the substance of the premise, but with regard to the method in which they proceeded“
Sarai was a woman of great faith, and great strength, and great piety. She was a good match for Abram the patriarch who was the friend of God. But in her zeal to see the promise’s fulfillment, she put on the pyre something precious and holy and totally unnecessary for the sake of seeing the fulfillment of the promise.
Her marriage was certainly not perfect and it was often fraught with danger, but in a world of violence where women were traded and won as if they were objects or prizes to be fought over, and where their value was based on their fertility, Sarai’s marriage is blessed and blissful.
Within the bounds of her monogamous marriage, she doesn’t have to compete with anyone in her husband’s affections. She is treated like a queen in her home and is respected, liked, and admired, wherever she goes not just because she is incredibly beautiful and wealthy, but also because her husband has elevated her and treated her with respect all this time.
The decision to bring a third party into her marriage bed is certainly not easy to make, but it’s her duty and desire to do her part in helping the blessing come about.
And so, acting as a dutiful wife, and still within the bounds of tradition, Sarai gave the thing she most treasured and prized.
A totally unnecessary offering.
Why do we do this? Why?
When I think about putting my heart and my wish to find the love of my life on the pyre, which in my youth I believed was THE most important thing in the world, when I think of how desperate I was and how I was so eager to make this absurd bargain with God, I can’t help but think of how futile it was.
And futile doesn’t even begin to describe it. In the eyes of God, for me to put something like that so that I could secure a good outcome, it can’t have been anything but offensive to him.
Let us be clear, a pyre is not an altar. Pyres are used during funerals and are central features in rituals for the dead. Pyres are places we come to grieve. And if you were to kill something precious to you and put it in a Pyre for the sake of a god, well, then that does indeed turn into a sort of altar, but an unholy one and one that could never honor our God.
Our suffering and our wanting, our figurative bleeding from self-imposed punishment, does NOT… can NOT…bring him any more joy and pleasure than did the pagan offerings of children at the altar of Moloch.
When we doubt the fact that God only wants good things for us and try to bargain and wheedle and negotiate and beg… that is when we begin to dishonor him. With Christ we have everything we could want on earth and in heaven. Christ is enough and God is all we need, for every need and every desire. His love is eternal, and his thoughts for us are greater and loftier than anything we could ever imagine.
The Bible teaches that the gospel of God is pure and simple. Salvation and the fulfillment of all the Bible promises is ours already through Christ.
Not Christ and good works.
Not Christ and good works and tithes.
Not Christ and good works and tithes and church attendance
Not Christ and good works and tithes and church attendance and purity pacts
His grace and his favor and his blessing are ours through Christ. Pure and Simple.
So instead of making pyres and giving to God things which he didn’t ask for in some unholy act of sacrifice to prove to God how much faith we have and how willing we are to go above and beyond, let’s instead make altars of our lives.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12:1
I think we will quickly find out that making an offering our entire lives upon the altar as a living sacrifice is far more pleasing to God than if we gave him the thing we love most in this world but held everything else back.
If you want to give up things that are not good for you that is excellent, but don’t do it to twist God’s arm to get him to do what you want. Rather do it so you can become a habitation for his spirit. Let’s give him our bodies and hearts for him to abide in and make us whole. Let’s build altars for worship where we bring as offerings things that God has expressly asked for and things which will both honor and please him.
I think… we need an epilogue. Just this once.
My bestie told me a few weeks ago that Adam is getting married in a few weeks. I say God bless him and it’s about damn time.
As for me, on the day I woke up from the dream that prompted me to write this episode I decided it was time for me to move on. To let go of this sick idea that God was holding me to some promise I made in my stupid reckless youth.
I accepted with humility that I am a recipient of his many blessings, not because of what I gave up then or what other things I’ve done for up til now, I am simply his daughter and he is my heavenly father who just wants good things for me. He’s not holding out on me.
I accepted the fact that it’s time to rescue my heart, or what remains from it, from that cursed Pyre and do something about this self-imposed ban on relationships.
So…. I guess that means Tinder for me… or theraphy…
— [WRAP UP] —
Thank you for listening. As promised, my favorite way to use Sandalwood is as a treatment for skin. From helping with dry and blemished skin to dealing with suspicious skin discolorations Sandalwood is SUCH a good essential oil to have. I cannot recommend it enough. What makes it so special? Well, my friend, here is a laundry list: Sandalwood is
- Supports respiratory and urinary system
- Helps with sore throat
- Eases feelings of nervousness and anxiety
- Is Uplifting
- Is reputed to have Anti-tumor and Anti-cancer properties
- Protects and balances skin
- And, hello? Did you miss the fact that it is considered an aphrodisiac? It is especially helpful for men who suffer from sexual dysfunction.
There is so much more I wanted to say about Sandalwood, and I have a bunch of specific recipes for diffusion blends and skin blemish serums. But you’ll have to check that out at the website: Feels and Flowers.com. Links to that page and to the episode post are in the description.
Time’s up. Gotta go. You know how to reach me if you need anything. Until next time… please remember that you are beautiful, you are loved, and you were made with a purpose. God Bless!
For all the levity in this episode it was by no means easy to write it. This episode was fueled by tears and regrets and not a little bit of compassion for the me at 20-something. So when I listened to this song sometime last week I kind of broke a little. I hope you listen to the message and it helps you feel SEEN the way that I did.