Genesis 21 tells the story of Hagar, Sarah’s maidservant. Through no fault of her own, she has been involved in Sarah and Abraham’s crazy scheme to “help” God out by taking pregnancy matters into their own hands. Now, some 14 years later, Hagar and Ishmael (her son by Abraham) have been cast out of their home. Sarah has had a son of her own in the intervening years and she does not want Ishmael around as a rival to Isaac. And so Hagar and Ishmael have been turned out into the desert with a loaf of bread, a bottle of water and the clothes on their backs.
This, by any definition, would be considered dire straits. Having no hope of rescue, Hagar and Ishmael have sat down in grief to await their deaths.
I wonder if you’ve ever felt that way. Abandoned. Alone. Without options. Without resources. Rich in anguish, but poor in every other way. Life lately has been quite difficult and strange. COVID-19, loss of jobs, illness, injury, death of loved ones, financial difficulties, relational stress, more questions than answers. And in the face of those circumstances, visitors have come calling. Their names are Despair, Discouragement, Confusion, Anger, and Fear. Perhaps you’ve met them.
There is another visitor, though. His name is Holy Spirit, and He tells a different story. It’s the same story we find in Genesis 21: 17
“And God heard the voice of the youth, and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar?”
Let me interrupt the story long enough to say this. Really? I mean, really!!!! On the surface, this looks like a very unobservant angel. Does he really have to ask Hagar what troubles her? It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? She’s homeless, destitute, betrayed, abandoned, and anticipating not just her own death, but the death of her son. And this makes the angel’s next sentence all the more astonishing. “Fear not.”
I don’t know about you, but this seems the perfect time to be afraid. If not now, when?
But the angel isn’t finished with the sentence. “Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the youth where he is.” Ah. This is a “but God” moment.
“This isn’t the life I planned on.” A lament uttered by a friend recently. Truth be told, it’s a thought that almost all of us have had at some point. And it surprises us, puzzles us. Leaves us wondering, “how did I get here?”.
Youth tends to see the world definitively, in shades of black and white. Youth is certain that life will unfold a certain way, that dreams will unfold in a particular timing, that things will be as they are expected to be. It’s the hopeful and passionate launching ground from which we set out in life. And there is great comfort in believing that there is a straight and linear march toward our hearts’ desires. But life isn’t straight and the paths before us often appear more like tangled knots and Rubik’s cubes. Even more astonishing, we find along the way that perhaps we don’t know ourselves as well as we thought, both for better and worse.
So what do we do when we find our souls in this lament? When the marriage we longed for never appeared, or did appear but has now ended in painful divorce. When finances fail, jobs are ripped out from under us, health is assaulted, relationships fracture, infertility strikes, abuse occurs.
The answer is not one simple thing, but rather a collection of necessary responses on our part.
1. Grieving what has not yet been (and perhaps will never be). This may mean facing a legitimate sense of regret and loss.
2. Grieving what has occurred that was outside what we had hoped for our lives. This too may involve regret over our part in choices/behavior that have derailed or detoured us from the truth of our hearts and the best for our lives.
3. Finding comfort in God’s ability and intention to turn “all things for good for those who love Him and who are called according to His purposes”. Trust the great Redeemer, the powerful Restorer who delights in healing what is broken and who will direct our steps back toward health and wholeness.
Allow that our “broken road” may actually have been designed, at least in part, by God. Please hear clearly that I am NOT saying that God authors disaster or heartbreak or that He approved awful things that may have happened to you or those you love. I am, however, saying that we often lack clarity about what we need and about the process of growing into maturity of character and identity. God sometimes leads us a different way than what we anticipated, or even wanted. But He does it FOR OUR GOOD. Always, for our good, for our welfare, and not our calamity.
Ultimately, these things must lead to a basic bottom line. We must come to a place where we know Father so well that we are able to trust that He is good and He is for us. We must trust that He is able, and perhaps more importantly, willing, to throw the force of Heaven into action on our behalf.
I love Spring. It’s my favorite season. The world starts to wake up from its winter slumber. Daffodils poke their heads up, trees bud and flower, life stirs. And for some odd reason, we often feel drawn toward cleaning out, cleaning up, and bringing order to chaos. Ah, yes. Tis the season for spring cleaning.
For many of us, life is usually such a whirlwind of activity that there isn’t room or time to really get things in order. We’re too busy, too rushed, overcommitted and stretched thin. But what if someone called a big time out? What if life slowed down? What if I got stuck in my house for a couple of weeks because of a worldwide pandemic? Oh yeah, here’s comes the silver lining to COVID19!!
And what if, just maybe, this big time out actually contains an invitation for us. What if it’s an opportunity to look at how we live, what we value, where our priorities lie? Maybe it affords us time to learn stillness and contemplation. Those tend to be lost arts in this day and age. And perhaps, in our newfound stillness, we find ourselves face to face with God.
It’s interesting that scripture never says, “be busy and know that I am God”. Rather, it is a call to stillness. “My soul, be quiet before God, for from him comes my hope. “ (Psalm 62:5 International Standard Version) In the quiet, we can actually hear God speak. In the stillness, we can feel the breeze of His presence and the warmth of His embrace.
I’ll be very honest and say that stillness did not come naturally to me. When God first asked me to try it, I thought He was trying to kill me. I fidgeted and squirmed, and protested and walked away. I couldn’t hear a thing, feel a thing, sense a thing. So I fidgeted some more and got straight on to the “weeping and gnashing of teeth” phase. But God insisted, and so I tried again, and again, and again. Until stillness actually came. And then so did God, and He brought peace with Him, and companionship, revelation and life. And all of the sudden my soul understood the value of stillness and the wisdom of a God who knew that I needed it even when I couldn’t see it.
So here is your invitation, from a God who knows you, loves you, and wants your company:
‘Arise, my love, my fair one,
And come away.
‘For behold, the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone.
‘The flowers appear on the earth once again;
The time for singing has come,
And the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
‘The fig tree has budded and ripens her figs,
And the vines are in blossom and give forth their fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
And come away [to climb the rocky steps of the hillside].’”
“O my dove, [here] in the clefts in the rock,
In the sheltered and secret place of the steep pathway,
Let me see your face,
Let me hear your voice;
For your voice is sweet,
And your face is lovely.”
Song of Songs 2: 10-14
In a world gone mad with fear and uncertainty, when the earth can only offer our limited scientific understanding, when life turns on a dime and all that we know fades away, here is God - wanting to meet you, and bless you, and keep you. May your heart turn toward Him so that you can hear His song over your life, over your family. Jesus cares about you and the worries of your heart. Father has never been caught off guard and has planned even now for your welfare. If you find yourself needing to talk, reach out and I'll be happy to do that with you.
When traumatic things happen in our lives, they tend to shake up our sense of who we are. Sometimes to the point that we feel forever changed by those things. It is true for each of us that our story is made up of the events and relationships of our lives. We are shaped by experiences; but more importantly, we are shaped by what we do with them and how we react to them. In this sense, trauma and other difficult things, do not have to define us. We do not have to take on their identity or nature. Instead, we hope in One who has promised to make all things new, including us. We hope in His compassion and gentle healing touch. We hope in his ferocious love for us and His commitment to our good.
And so we walk thru the pain, letting our feelings receive validation and seeing how our thinking and behavior might be altered. But we do not stay there. We insist that our feelings bow to truth. We bring our thinking in line with the culture of heaven. We declare the promises of God - even if they are still in the distance. We fight to keep our souls in a good place, knowing that the Trinity fights for us and alongside us.
Ultimately, we find ourselves on the other side. With richer stories to tell of who God is and who we are in Him. We go deeper into life that is truly life. And one more nail is struck into hell's coffin.