I’ve been reading about two interesting people this morning – Abraham and Hagar. It struck me yet again just how trusting Abraham was; God made him a promise, but it was years and years before it was fulfilled. I could quite easily fall into the trap of thinking, ‘Oh blimey, now that’s real faith! Mine’s just rubbish!’ However, I read further and saw that Abraham actually wasn’t so great in his faith all the time. Like all human beings, he was frail and flawed. He doubted. (Although, to be honest, it WAS a rather ridiculous promise – a very old man having thousands and thousands of descendants, when he had an old, old wife who was infertile? Come on!!) He allowed himself to let Sarai work out an alternative plan – to make things happen; to hurry things along. They had clearly both begun to doubt that God would do this wonderful thing, so he slept with Sarai’s slave girl, Hagar, that she sent in to him.
For goodness sake! What a way to treat another human being! Poor little Hagar. I was reminded of the “The Long Song”, the recently televised book written by Andrea Levy. July was a black slave, and the new Overseer, John Mortimer took a fancy to her; believed himself to be in love with her. Knowing it was illegal however to marry a slave, even a black free woman, he married instead the woman who owned the Plantation, Caroline . He takes July as his “real” wife, giving her a permanent home underneath the house and being married in name only to Caroline. Of course, because of the fear of ridicule and the desperate need to keep up social appearances, Caroline can’t say anything. And of course, the smitten July, who bears him a child, Emily, revels in taunting her mistress with her raised-up status. It can only end in tears for all surely.
The themes are similar in both stories though – we can’t bear the status quo: things must be able to be better this; so they take steps to make it so. We do rash and impetuous, poorly thought-out things to bring about our dreams. Then the dream crashes around our ears; we end up in a sorry mess of our own making. Other people become caught up in the mess and are hurt in the process. God had made Abraham and Sarai a promise; she would bear a child. They stopped believing in that possibility and went and did something foolish and damaging to bring about the dream themselves. They couldn’t see beyond the place where they were in the way God had told them it would be. Hagar was damaged in the process. She had to give herself to an old man. She became pregnant and her natural response, just like July in “The Long Song” was to flaunt her ‘raised-up’ status. Sarai responded by ill-treating her and Hagar ends up running away.
Abraham gets a ticking off by God. ‘That wasn’t what I meant at all. What I promised will happen exactly as I told you’. I think they’re jolly lucky to be let off so lightly, given the mess they’ve made and the hurt they’ve caused! God enters into a covenant with Abraham, he gives him very clear signs, and his faith is deepened. Hagar was found in the wilderness place and comforted by El Roi – ‘the One who sees me’. Our God, just one of the 85 or so names that his people use to call on him in their times of need. She thought she was alone and forgotten but he came to her there and made a way back for her; he didn’t leave her in that desperate place. July’s story doesn’t go quite so well. She loses her new found status and, later, her daughter. It seems no one is looking out for her. There is a further twist in her story though; it isn’t quite the end.
Up to that point, Abraham had been pretty good at following God’s directions. He had left his homeland and allowed God to lead him step-by-step. (Genesis 12:1). (Although he does actually do some stupid things along the way, like let his wife become the Pharaoh’s concubine because he’s scared of being killed! There’s this bit in 13:14 that struck me deeply today though – “look around from where you are”. I got to thinking: I’m in a funny old place and I definitely wouldn’t have chosen to be here! I’m two days away from getting biopsy results that will possibly be life-changing. I’m here in this place of not knowing what’s ahead. I’ve had to give up control of so much. I’m needing to rest more; wait lots and trust loads! And it’s hard. It would be easy to become perplexed, even bitter, as I look around from where I am.
I recently finished reading all the “Cazalet Chronicles” – family saga series of five books, set from 1939 to 1958, by Elizabeth Jane Howard. Fabulous story. The family all became very dear to me; as if I knew them as friends. That’s what reading can do, not only transport you to another time and place, but entwine your reality with one created by another, so brilliantly that you fully enter into the lives of the people they present, as if they were real; at least for the time you are reading. The final book is titled “All Change”. The Cazalets are facing massive uncertainty as the family business goes bankrupt and their beloved Home Place has to be sold. Cary, now a mother herself says to her gathered extended family, including her husband, father, uncles and aunt,
“All through the awful time when Dad was lost and I remained the only person who believed he was alive and would come back, you [Archie, her husband, then friend] were here. You became my family, too. But the house stayed the same through that time. If I shut my eyes, I could tell you the detail of any room, and outside, the orchard and the fields and the wood with the stream running through it. ….This house is inside us and we shall never forget it”
It strikes me that we do so need that something that stays the same. Life is so tumultuous; even in the very good times there is often massive upheaval, so we seek stability, security, anything that will not change. Buildings, gardens, places – all seem like they can offer this, as we find too often that people don’t. Our loved ones try to give that to us, but they waver, they too are uncertain, some may cheat, they move away and of course, they can die and leave us floundering. How lovely that Cary believes Home Place to be in their hearts. She’s internalized the feelings of safety and security it offered to her and knows she can continue with the strength she found in that place. It is a part of who she is now. I love how she made that step. I adore my husband, love him dearly and he’s been an absolute star since I became ill. A rock. He’s still human though and therefore, like me, has his flaws. I love my house; it’s a safe place in a storm; but, although it’s pretty darned solid, being made of Yorkshire stone, it’s not indestructible.
No, I do believe that my one and only true safe place, is in the One who created me; my Father in Heaven: God. He never changes; his constancy is all I really can count on ultimately. He is El Roi – the One who sees me. He knows the state of my health and what I’m going through right now. God hasn’t promised that he’ll make me well; but I know he has promised to be with me whatever I face up ahead. It’s all I have to hang on to; that’s my safe place. Him. I can’t trust myself and I certainly can’t trust my body; I’ve learned that for sure. He doesn’t stop the storms; he doesn’t prevent me walking into them; but he is there right by me in the midst of them. And when this life on earth is over, that’s where I will be always; with Him forever.