I'm starting this series with Anna, because most "barren women of the bible" stories have to do with couples directly in the bloodline of Christ and/or whose firstborn will be great prophets, therefore they don't stay barren for obvious reasons! Some people go on to assume this means you won't stay "barren" also, but nearly 2% of couples never have that baby they so longed for (and it's a higher percentage if you include families who've been called and blessed to adopt or foster, but don't have biological children).
Anna's mention in scripture is short:
And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem. Luke 2:36-38
The picture is this: Anna's young life was seemingly marred with both childlessness and being widowed at a young age. Perhaps she lost children. No one plans for all that loss; surely, her initial hopes were to have a long life with her husband and to bear his children. Instead, she remained a widow and practically spent her whole life at the temple. She must have felt the full brunt of the loss and accompanying stigma. She surely was "reproached" by the know-alls who think they speak for God on matters of suffering, as they rake the sufferer over the coals of their foolish thoughts. Of course, with her gift of prophecy, she was probably quick to dismiss all the quackery, even the well meaning sort who perhaps told her falsely that she'd remarry and have children one day. She listened to God instead. And she was set on waiting (and would wait decades) for a certain child to show up at the temple.
Not only did she get to confirm this baby was the long awaited Messiah, but also:
"In the margin of our common version, Israel is put instead of Jerusalem, which the translators thought was nearly as eligible as the word they received into the text. This marginal reading is supported by several MSS., all the Arabic and Persic versions, the Vulgate, and most copies of the Itala. Were this reading to be received, it would make a very essential alteration in the meaning of the text, as it would intimate that this excellent woman traveled over the land of Israel, proclaiming the advent of Christ. At all events, it appears that this widow was one of the first publishers of the Gospel of Christ, and it is likely that she traveled with it from house to house through the city of Jerusalem, where she knew they dwelt who were expecting the salvation of God." Clarke Commentary
Wow! Anna was chosen for great things!
Today people might think Anna was crazy to not make it her goal in life to remarry and try to have children again. Today some self righteous person might blanketly call her "and her sort" selfish for not adopting. These sort of comments probably feel similar to whatever "reproaching" society was dishing out back then. But Anna prevailed by keeping her "heart, mind and soul" fixed on God and pleasing Him (instead of trying to please "reproach-ers" and bend to their will, or falling under the spell of people who only said what she wanted to hear!) And in the end, what an honor to see the Christ-child and proclaim the Good News to many!
Us childless women are not meaningless. While many count on children to give their lives meaning, God can more than give our lives meaning. Anna's story is proof of that. Our lives may not look conventional, or anything like Anna's life, but we still have a reason for being.
There are so many "childless" males in scripture (Elijah, Elisha, John the Baptist, Jesus Christ - we have a lot of good company on the "outskirts" of society), but you have to dig deeper to find such women mentioned in the bible. When I learned about Anna, it was HUGE to me; to finally find someone in the bible who didn't fit the married woman w/ children mold! To have a female biblical figure to figuratively stand alongside! Whenever I teeter on believing the "all there is to life is marriage and children" lie.. Whenever I get any of that loathed "reproach", when life's Eliphazes, Bildads, Zophars and Elihus (Job's friends) come at me with their know-all condemnation or false leading.. there's at least Anna, a long line of prophets, and the Son to keep me from stumbling over it all.
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