What to Remember When You Feel Forgotten

Milky Way @ Joshua Tree National Park

His eyes were filled with regret as he told her that their time together was over. But what good did his sympathy do for her? His affection was not deep enough to keep her there, to keep their son safe – shame turned her skin hot, each breath seemed too loud and too long. For hadn’t she thought that he had chosen them? Hadn’t she thought their child important?

She’d been wrong. “I never asked for this,” she said to him. “You came to me. Everything I did was to please you.”

She remembered those first months, her Ishmael growing within. Perhaps she had been wrong to so resent this man’s first woman, but never had she expected to bear a child that would not truly belong to her. Never had she felt the loneliness of belonging to a man whose heart was fully enthralled with someone else.

She had fled this place, all those years ago, chosen to leave the unkindness of her mistress. She would’ve kept away, would’ve made a new life for herself — but who would argue with an angel of the Lord? Who would expect this banishment when the Lord had stopped her, had seen her as she ran — when He saw her trouble and promised her descendants too many to count?

She’d thought that meant He would guard Ishmael’s life – even if the promise did come with warning of Ishmael’s wild spirit.  There must be hope for his future.

What would become of them if He had changed His mind?

“I am sorry. You must go.” Abraham looked away from her, toward Sarah’s tent.

Her words had no weight. She had no power to change this. No power to protect her son. She knew he had shown no kindness to Isaac, but was there no mercy? Had all of their chances ran out?

“How will I take care of him?” She threw her pride to the ground, clasped his robe. “Please, let him stay. I will go. Keep him here.”

“The Lord has spoken. He will take care of my son.”

Nothing was fair, nothing was right. The woman who had brought them together, the woman who had willed her Ishmael into existence – she was now forcing them into exile, blaming Ishmael for his place in the camp.

Abraham gave her food and a skin of water, placed it all on her shoulders.

Her son dug his feet into the ground as they took the first steps away. He crossed his arms. “Why are we going? It isn’t fair. It’s because of him, because of Isaac.”

He was leaving his friends, his bed, his father. His home.

“We have to go,” she said. “Please,” she whispered, desperation making her fingers weak as she grasped for his arm. “Please. I can’t stand being here anymore.”

“Where will we go?” he asked. “What will we do?”

And she with no answers, except to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Did the Lord see her now?

It felt like He had closed His eyes.

********************

Keeping track of their days in the desert soon became impossible. She didn’t care how many hours had passed, not anymore. There was too much barren ground, too much heat, too little rest from the anxiety cramping in her stomach. They sweated out any of the water they drank by day and shivered side-by-side at night. She had no idea if they were any closer to finding a place to survive than the early morning when they had left home. She had no idea how to find more food for Ishmael’s growling stomach once their rations ran out.

He had stopped asking questions. He had been walking these last days without complaint. She had stumbled and he helped her back to her feet, gently brushing sand from her hands.

“I need to sit.” With the breaking of their silence, he swayed and she steadied him as best she could. “Water?” he asked, his hoarse voice cracking on the word.

She took the skin out and held it to his lips. A few drops fell out.

The last drops.

“Sit,” she said, guiding him to a patch of prickly bushes. “Stay here.”

There was no more water in the skin and none to be found in this forsaken place. She looked into the cloudless sky and down at her boy. Her strong boy, her almost-man, had tears running down his dusty face. Leaning close, she kissed his dark cheek and turned. I love you. She couldn’t bear to look at him again. He needed water. And she had none to give.

I cannot watch the boy die, she thought. I cannot. It is more than I can take.

No thought to her direction, she moved away from him, far enough that he could not hear her wail, and fell to the ground. The tears she’d tried to hold back all came, now that there was nothing left to lose.

What is the matter, Hagar?

She coughed on the tears suddenly caught in her throat. She knew this voice. She held her breath, afraid to miss a word coming from the heavens.

Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.

Her vision was suddenly clear of the salt-stinging tears and the sun’s glare abated as she stood, hope giving her legs the strength that had been lost. Her eyes opened wide.

There, there not such a distance away – a well! 

She ran, laughter trailing behind her. “Ishmael!” she shouted with renewed energy, renewed hope. “I am coming!”

Her son would live.

The Lord still had His eyes on her.

She would never again have Abraham in her life or a place in his tent, but his God had not forsaken her. He had not pushed aside His promise to her son.

They had not been forgotten.

************

Maybe you are in your own desert, unsure of why you’re stuck there and desperate for a way out.

Maybe you feel unimportant and cast aside. Maybe you feel forgotten.

Maybe you are heart-sick because there is pain on every side and no easy solutions are in sight.

Maybe you are asking this question: God, do You even see me?  

I imagine that Hagar felt all of these things. It’s easy to wonder how Sarah could have been cruel enough to send this woman and her child away, but then – in those years while she waited for a child, didn’t Sarah wonder why Hagar had been given what she so desired for herself? She, too, probably felt unimportant. Cast aside. Not worthy enough to have a place.

Sarah and Hagar could not understand what was happening in their lives. Sarah heard God’s promise and thought it would never come to pass, at least not if she was involved. She was too old and so this covenant-child would belong to someone else…Abraham’s future would surely leave her behind.

Hagar knew the Lord had spoken of a future for her son and yet there was nowhere to go, no place for them. She gave up hope and prepared to die.

Yes, these women had more in common than they probably would have admitted. And we have a lot in common with them, too.

Sarah and Hagar felt alone and forgotten.

But they were never actually alone or forgotten, not for one moment.

Neither are you.

Sometimes it feels like we can’t see God…like we can’t quite hear or feel Him.

But that emotion doesn’t change the truth that His eyes are always open to us. His ears always hear the cries of one who seeks Him. He never, ever leaves us alone.

We know that these are the promises God has given in His Word – and yet, sometimes, we let ourselves get caught up in the trouble we see and the pain we feel. We forget to trust in the One who knows us best, the One who is the Author of our faith and our life-story.

He has a plan for us — just like He had a plan for Sarah and Hagar. He has a plan for the people we love, just like He had a plan for Isaac and for Ishmael. Sometimes His long-term vision requires a desert or a circumstance that we just cannot understand. In this life, we cannot explain all of the ways and whys of God…there is no way to capture and unfold every mystery on this side of eternity.

But we know that He will complete the good work He began in us. (Phil. 1:6) We know that He works all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. (Rom. 8:28)  And we know Who He is – our Provider, our Comforter, our King. When our world and our hearts are shaken, we have to remember this: we serve a God whose Word endures forever. We serve a God “who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand and with the breadth of His hand marked off the heavens…who has held the dust of the earth in a basket and weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance.  Our God will “bring out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing”.  (from Isaiah 40)

Not one of them is missing.

Every single star is named. Every star is in its place.

I can’t help but think of God’s promise to Abraham: Look up at the sky and count the stars – if indeed you can count them. So shall your offspring be.

That’s us, friends. We are spiritual children of Abraham, blessed because of his faith.

And the God who is the intimate caretaker of the stars (when we can’t even begin to see or count each one) knows you by name, too.

Isaiah 40 goes on with a question from The Lord to his people – “why do you complain? Why do you say that your way is hidden from Me? Why do you say that your cause is disregarded by your God?

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary,

and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.”

You are not hidden from God. He hears you. He sees you. He has compassion for you.

You are named, friend, by this God of great power and mighty strength. Not one star is missing, not one is forgotten.  And neither are you.

We may not be able to understand it all – the closed doors, the deserts, the pain-because His grace will always outdo our imaginations. But some day we will see how He kept us, refined us, ordered our steps exactly as they needed to be to bring us to His heart.

Hagar and Ishmael’s story goes on to say this: God was with the boy as he grew up. (Genesis 21:20)  God was faithful to all He had promised.

I think there’s a lot to glean from the lives of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, and Ishmael…but what I want to remember on this day is, simply, the love God has for His people. He is a Father who makes springs in the desert and provides all that we need. He covers our sin with His own righteousness and His grace is our forever-hope.

He hears us.

He sees us.

We can trust our hearts to His loving hands.

“Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, “In the Lord alone are deliverance and strength.”

“He tends His flock like a shepherd:

He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart.”  (from Isaiah 40)

 

*fictional re-telling of Hagar and Ishmael’s story is drawn from Genesis 16 & 21

*photograph from andrin0

 

 

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