Okay, the Blessed Mother probably takes the cake as the strongest woman, but Sarah from the Book of Tobit is incredibly relatable, particularly for those who are brokenhearted, drowning in grief, or are overwhelmed with despair. Her strength is something to admire and pray for.
For those of you who don't know, the Book of Tobit is a short book in the Old Testament, nestled between Nehemiah and Judith. But it's powerful. It's oftentimes read alongside praying the Our Lady Undoer of Knots novena.
For a super brief summary, Tobit is mourning his old age and loss of sight and sends his son Tobiah off with a disguised St. Raphael the Archangel to go collect some of their money from a far off land. Along the journey, Raphael introduces Tobiah to the beautiful Sarah, a woman who has been married seven times but whose husbands were killed by a curse before their wedding night.
Sarah is totally engulfed in hopelessness. She went through something totally unimaginable seven times, and it wasn't until this seventh husband's death that she was brought to the brink. When we meet her, she is considering suicide. She says, “Though alive, I am among the dead.”
Shoot. That's incredibly serious. She was strong, she hung in there, she endured because she was sure that this was her vocation, that she was meant for marriage, but a curse kept pushing her to her limits, and finally she hit a breaking point. Her seventh husband's death was the straw that broke the camel's back. Just when everything seems lost and she's about to throw in the towel, Tobiah comes out of nowhere.
Sarah never learns why she had to endure what she did, but she doesn't spend any more time feeling crushed beneath that question after Tobiah strolls in, led by our beloved archangel. Naturally, she was worried when her father proposed Tobiah be here eighth husband. And as many of us know, grief and despair and hopelessness doesn't just disappear over night.
As Tobiah prepares for their wedding night, he was also probably a little worried, though guided by St. Raphael on how to break the curse. The angel says, “But do not be afraid, for she was set apart for you before the world existed. You will save her, and she will go with you.” (6:18) But Sarah was still writhing in worry. “After she had cried…she wiped away the tears and said, ‘Be brave, my daughter. May the Lord of heaven grant you joy in your grief. Courage, my daughter.’” (7:16)
Sarah's father, though hopeful, was also still weighted by fear. He orders his servants to begin digging a grave prematurely for Tobiah, but after the groom performs the instructions by St. Raphael to break the curse, they are found to be “sound asleep together.” Gosh, picture that for a second. A sleep wrapped in each other's arms, totally filled with relief and consolation. Maybe there were sweet little smiles.
And here's the most powerful image then. Sarah's father orders the servants to fill in the grave before dawn. The grave wasn't needed. Fill it in.
Tobiah brings Sarah back to his family where she is warmly accepted and loved, and Tobit's sight is restored and he says, “For I know and believe that whatever God has spoken to me will be accomplished.” St. Raphael reveals himself for who he is, and God has provided.
Sarah faced trial after trial, but still she persisted. Still she endured. Sometimes that's all God is asking of us. Fr. Michael Gaitley also writes that so often, when we are on the verge of giving up, we are just about to win. It's an illusion that the devil sets, making victory look so far off when actually heavenly aid is rushing in. And wouldn't that be devastating to throw in the towel just as we are about to overcome?! Sarah was about to give up everything and take her own life, but God will always provide.
We just have to hang on.