And now don’t be grieved or angry with yourselves for selling me here, because God sent me ahead of you to preserve life.Genesis 45:5 CSB
I love studying historical women who were ceiling breakers. Anyone who knows me knows that Maria W. Stewart is one of my favorite figures. She lived in the nineteenth century and was a woman of tremendous faith. Stewart spoke on a variety of political topics, backing her ideas with historical and contemporary sources as well as the Bible. She was one of the first, if not the first, U.S. American women to give lectures before audiences of men and women on political topics and then publish her words. As a Black woman engaged in public advocacy and human rights work in the 1830s, Stewart was far ahead of her time.
Over the years, as I have used “ahead of her time” when presenting on Stewart’s speeches and writings, I have wondered what it felt like for her. Despite (or maybe even because of) her insight, faith, and eloquence, she had little support. Her words reveal that she faced intense opposition both to her ideas and her presence. She was an orphan, a domestic laborer, a victim of financial fraud on more than one occasion, and a community Sabbath school teacher struggling to make ends meet. Yet, she believed. Her faith in God steadied her through many storms over the 76 years of her life. She taught and led others to the Lord and was successful in publishing a volume of her speeches and writings not once but twice.
For much of her life, Stewart was left behind. She was not a “headliner” invited to tour with major advocates of the day. She was known, but not elevated. It could not have felt good to have something to offer the world and be rejected repeatedly. But her forward focus is perhaps an indication of an understanding that she was not left behind but sent ahead. She answered a call from God to speak up on issues of injustice, education, economic development, and political freedom. She believed her reward awaited her and released any bitterness she might have held toward those who blocked her work or discouraged her (see, Stewart’s Farewell Address for her reflections on her time as a public figure).
Stewart has been a constant source of reflection throughout my life, and as I read Joseph’s words to his brothers recently, she came to my mind once again. She too, like Joseph, was able to forgive and take an eternal perspective when faced with those who had harmed her. It begs the question, what about me? How do I handle rejection, abuse, neglect, discouragement, or abandonment? Have I been able to take the eternal view in the tough “pits” I’ve been thrown in? Am I able to see how God might be using the dark places for future light? Have I only thought of those moments as being left behind rather than as being sent ahead?
Lord God, In the tough times when people have hurt me, let me down, or disappointed me, You were with me. You have walked this earth and know that to be in human relationships can mean pain and trauma. Hurt people often do indeed hurt people. For some of us, we were rejected at birth by parents who were absent physically and/or emotionally. Others of us have found ourselves in the pits of depression as we were left behind by those we gave our hearts, time, and money to. We may have been exploited by our jobs–laid off, reassigned, or just rebuffed for our ideas and contributions. You know these pains. You experienced the coldness of not being embraced in one’s hometown. You have been present in the dark spaces. Thank You for holding my hand when there was nothing to hold on to.
Father, as You have shown boundless forgiveness to me, expand my heart to forgive those who have harmed me or meant me harm. Strengthen me to work through the feelings of being abandoned or betrayed to reach a place of peace in You. I repent of bitterness and resentment and turn to You for new mercy and redeeming grace. Replace my sight with Yours that I might see how you have moved me ahead into new growth and new opportunities. Keep serving You as my focus rather than proving something to the people who’ve thrown me out. Thank You for protecting my life and my future. I will keep my trust in You.
In Jesus’ Name,
For more on Maria W. Stewart, read: