I started reading the book of Esther again. Now, I’m not usually one to jump on the bandwagon that everyone else is riding on, but I’ll make an exception for Esther. As far as my favorite Biblical characters go, she ranks right up there with Uriah the Hittite and the prophet Micaiah (aka So Much Swoon and Mr. Sass), but I digress…
Like everyone else, I admire Esther’s courage. I’m inspired by the fact that when it comes to making a life or death decision, Esther steps out and risks her neck for her people, even though she’s obviously scared out of her mind. But the part of the story that resonates in me more than anything else is when it’s mentioned that, before she ever met the king and became his bride, Esther was relocated to the best place in the harem and assigned seven personal maids.
You might think I’m moved by God’s obvious favor upon her even then. After all, everyone who shares a message about Esther talks about how she was set apart in this manner. But I’m a little more interested in how she might have been torn apart.
Because sometimes being set apart looks a whole lot like being isolated.
Think about it. Hegai moved her to the best place in the harem. We’re not told if this was completely separate from the other women or if it was still in the midst of them, but while I can’t guarantee where it landed her on a geographical scale, I can pretty confidently say where she ended up on the relationship scale. Basically this was a beauty competition and, by displaying this unmerited favor upon her, Hegai singled Esther out as the one to beat.
“Congratulations, dollface, you’re the most hated woman in Susa! Step right up to claim your prize.”
I mean, she still had her seven maids (and, judging from her reputation of winning people over in a heartbeat, they probably liked her), but I can’t help imagining that was the loneliest year of Esther’s life.
And I hate that this is the part of Esther’s story I find myself relating to the most when I would rather have the crown and the bravery and the saving a nation from destruction. But Esther’s story—and my story, too—would not be complete without the fear and the loneliness and the wondering if one life really matters in the grand scope of things.
I can’t imagine Esther was very grateful for her isolation when she was standing in the thick of it. It doesn’t have to be recorded within the pages of her story for me to know that spiteful comments and hurtful words were thrown her way. Girls are vicious, and I imagine Esther was torn apart during those twelve months of beauty treatments.
But God needed to get Esther alone in order to teach her to trust Him alone. This is obvious in later chapters of her story when she turns to Him and humbles herself in prayer, along with her seven maids that she apparently converted along the way (as evidenced by her comment about them praying with her in Esther 4:16). Check that out. Esther was left with only a few women to trust and she transformed their lives. You go, girl!
I can’t help wondering what Esther’s life would have looked like without that season of isolation. We can know for certain that there are seven women who would not have had their lives transformed by her witness, but we also have to wonder how Esther would have stood in the midst of the masses. Would she still have transformed lives, or would she have conformed to the image these women expected of her?
Was Hegai’s favor a saving factor in Esther’s story? I imagine that it was. But I also imagine that Esther was confused by it. I can’t help but wonder how often she wished he hadn’t singled her out and made her the enemy of every other woman in the harem. Because being set apart hurts. There’s loneliness involved. And it’s even harder when we can’t see the big picture. While Esther knew she was there competing for the crown, I can’t imagine that she ever really believed she would be Xerxes’ choice of queen. She probably hoped, just as every other girl there hoped, but I’m sure her dreams were plagued by doubts.
Sometimes I feel as isolated as Esther. Maybe I’m not the most hated woman in Susa, but I remember feeling like the most ignored girl in Logan County, and sometimes I’ve felt like the most invisible woman in Charlottesville. Whether or not that was actually true, the feelings were very real, and they hurt.
Following Jesus hurts.
And I don’t know why God’s path has to be riddled with pain, but I do know that I serve a Creator who makes beauty from ashes. I follow an Author who turns orphaned peasants into queens. So whenever you’re feeling torn apart, just remember that the God who writes real-life fairy tales has set you apart for such a time as this, and when you come through these trials, dear one, you will stand in the presence of kings.