22,630 days. (Luke 2:36-38)
The story of Anna only takes up four sentences in the book of Luke. However, in that tiny amount of space, one of my favorite characters in the whole Bible is described.
Here's the text:
"And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem."
She was married. She was widowed. Then she spent the rest of her life in prayer. It's easy to breeze through that, so let's look at her story a little more deeply.
If Anna got married when she was fifteen and then lived with her husband for seven years, that means she spent sixty-two years fasting and praying day and night.
Through the sharp grief of a young bride, through the disorienting transition into middle age, in all of the thousands of questions that come during a woman's loss of youthful beauty and the onset of senior aches and pains, she stayed in the temple in the posture of trust.
2000 years have passed since Anna walked the earth, but has the essential nature of a woman's heart really changed so much that we cannot imagine what she felt?
As the tight, young skin of the back of her hands developed liver spots, as large veins emerged, and as her knuckles swelled, was she never tempted to despair? Did she never ask, "Have I been a fool to spend my life in expectation?"
Was she never lonely? Did she never see other women living different lives, easier lives, and long for what she could not have?
Yet, she stayed in the temple.
Not only did she pray, but she fasted, a sign that she was actively directing her hunger toward unseen filling. In the cold, aching silences of night, she sought God. In the day-bright monotony, watching worshippers who were just going through the motions, she sought God.
Did cynicism never creep in? Did she never doubt the presence or the character of the Almighty? Yet for 62 years, 22,630 days, "She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day."
It's hard for me to wait on God for a year, for a month, for a week. I throw out my questions and demands and want God to patch them up pronto. I expect an empirical, logical answer. I resent mystery. I resent discomfort.
I grew up in the era of large Christian organizations promising easy marriages, faithful children, strong nations, a theology with every loose end tied up, and large bank accounts for those who simply followed God's plan. A + B = C. Even though I know that's an oversimplification of what Scripture says, some of that entitlement got in my bones.
But Anna spent six decades leaning into a trust that superseded entitlement. She stayed in the humble posture of seeking God for an entire lifetime before she saw the fruit of her search with her own eyes.
We don't use the word "prophetess" much these days, but the Greek word that the Bible uses to describe Anna is the feminine form of a word that describes someone who proclaims the mind and message of God. Sometimes this communication predicts the future, but often there is simply a speaking out of God's voice to a certain people at a certain time.
Thinking about Anna, seeing how she spent so much time chasing what was unseen, seeing how she allowed herself to remain small and thirsty for God's character and company, I am not surprised that she was able to recognize and vocalize Truth when it arrived. What a beautiful woman. What a beautiful life.